6
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Source of an element that never existed
Perhaps with thermal tangles
Some of us are not as neat
Our name is a misnomer
An electronic errand?
Hard to pinpoint
Following death
We fade too

Question: What are we and what is the significance of each line?

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  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Wow, an inverted staircase!!! $\endgroup$ – Rohcana Sep 23 '15 at 20:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Anachor Is there a tag for that?! $\endgroup$ – Gordon K Sep 23 '15 at 20:35
  • $\begingroup$ Possibly not. ${{{{}}}}$ $\endgroup$ – Rohcana Sep 23 '15 at 20:38
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    $\begingroup$ Line #3 might refer to Messier object. $\endgroup$ – JS1 Sep 24 '15 at 2:40
  • $\begingroup$ @js1 indeed it might! $\endgroup$ – Gordon K Sep 24 '15 at 5:27
3
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Is it:

A Supernova?

Source of an element that never existed

Heavy elements are created in supernova by the process of nuclear fusion.

Perhaps with thermal tangles

Some of us are not as neat

It's an explosion... so pretty messy. There are also symmetrical/non-symmetrical supernovae.

Our name is a misnomer

"Nova" means new - when in reality the stars that are dying are old.

An electronic errand?

Huge amounts of electronic radiation are generated - in the for of visible light, xrays and gamma rays.

Hard to pinpoint Following death We fade too

Once a star has "died" or gone supernova - it has expelled all of its matter and can no longer be located.

Title:

They are a rare sight indeed :)

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  • $\begingroup$ Not a supernova. The intended answer fits the clues better than this. $\endgroup$ – Gordon K Sep 23 '15 at 22:01
3
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I've only 1 thing in mind and it seems to fit most of the clues:

A Black Hole

Source of an element that never existed

Aether was attributed to gravity, pretty much the only thing a black hole has.

Perhaps with thermal tangles

Not sure on this one, they obey thermodynamic laws?

Some of us are not as neat

Often accompanied by an accretion disk of left over material

Our name is a misnomer

Not actually a hole

An electronic errand?

Strong electro magnetic fields

Hard to pinpoint

Dont' emit light so hard to see

Following death We fade too

Via Hawking radiation, black holes do dissipate and fade over time

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  • $\begingroup$ Not a bad guess, but not a black hole. Lines 3 and 5 are quite key to the answer. $\endgroup$ – Gordon K Sep 23 '15 at 22:04
  • $\begingroup$ @GordonK It's not the fifth element? $\endgroup$ – Mazura Sep 24 '15 at 3:54
2
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In order to provide a fully complete answer to this question, I have created this answer as a community wiki (which does not attract any reputation score).

The answer from @Evert has correctly solved the riddle and many of the explanations, so his answer has been upvoted, but it left a few unsolved lines.


I was looking for:

Planetary Nebulae

Source of an element that never existed

Nebulae were once believed to contain Nebulium - an element which ended up not existing.

Perhaps with thermal tangles

Some scientists have hypothesized the existence of cold knots containing very little hydrogen to explain discrepancies in results of measuring the composition of planetary nebulae.

Some of us are not as neat

Some of the known planetary nebulae are within the set of Messier Objects.

Our name is a misnomer

When William Herschel first observed planetary nebulae, he thought they resembled the shape of planets and the name stuck, though they are formed from dying stars and have nothing to do with planets.

An electronic errand?

A planetary nebula is a kind of e-mission nebula.

Hard to pinpoint

The distance to a planetary nebula is very hard to determine.

Following death

By the time a planetary nebula forms, any planets around the star at the core will have been destroyed.

We fade too

Planetary nebulae are relatively very short-lived, lasting only a few tens of thousands of years (as compared to the several billion years of a star's life-cycle) before fading away.

A rare sight indeed

This short lifespan helps explain why so few can be found (only around 3000 are known). They are also faint objects - none are visible to the naked eye.

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1
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Virtual particles? (more specifically virtual electrons or antiprotons?)

Source of an element that never existed-

Different particles with different properties than we accept as within Standard Model would have resulted in very different elements. This one got me thinking that virtuals would work, but this is a better fit than the rest of the statements are for virtuals.

Perhaps with thermal tangles-

Thermal excitation of a space increases momentary virtual particle creation(and subsequent annihilation) as seen near black holes, etc. and energy is also released in virtual pair annihilation. Even more concretely, magnetic tangles affect the travel of electrons. This one really got me thinking about the fit. (I used this paper for reference)

Some of us are not as neat-

Disobey 1st law of thermo, off mass shell, mass is unpredictable, and the math also gets hairy.

Our name is a misnomer-

Not actually 'virtual,' just exist for a terribly short time

An electronic errand?-

Errant energy, in the form of particles and charges that are far outside of traditional consideration of non-exceptional physics?

Hard to pinpoint-

Uncertainty principle combined with the fact that annihilation happens more quickly with more energetic virtuals.

Following death We fade too-

[only considering these as one statement, because I am at a loss of ideas for those with separate meanings] If considering the increased frequency of virtual creation near/within a black hole, with the 'death'(the "pop" of a small black hole depleted by Hawking radiation) of a black hole causing them to "fade" and become less energetic and less frequent, this makes some sense.

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0
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They are:

Cosmic rays

Source of an element that never existed

Quoting wikipedia:

Cosmic rays are also responsible for the continuous production of a number of unstable isotopes in the Earth's atmosphere, such as carbon-14

Perhaps with thermal tangles

Quoting a part of the wikipedia article (with a message about possible neutrality issues):

A role of cosmic rays directly or via solar-induced modulations in climate change was suggested by Edward P. Ney in 1959 and by Robert E. Dickinson in 1975. The idea has been revived in recent years, most notably by Henrik Svensmark, who has argued that because solar variation modulates the cosmic ray flux on Earth, they would consequently affect the rate of cloud formation and hence the climate. However, other scientists have vigorously criticized Svensmark for sloppy and inconsistent work

So, it is something actually being debated and at least unclear. However, the riddle verse contains the word "perhaps", so it is not taking it for granted nor as refuted.

Some of us are not as neat

Quoting from wikipedia:

Cosmic rays attract great interest practically, due to the damage they inflict on microelectronics and life outside the protection of an atmosphere and magnetic field

Our name is a misnomer

Quoting from wikipedia:

The term ray is a historical accident, as cosmic rays were at first, and wrongly, thought to be mostly electromagnetic radiation.

An electronic errand?

Quoting from wikipedia:

Of primary cosmic rays, which originate outside of Earth's atmosphere, about 99% are the nuclei (stripped of their electron shells) of well-known atoms, and about 1% are solitary electrons (similar to beta particles).

Also, the answer to the "Some of us are not as neat" part also might apply.

Hard to pinpoint

They were first detected only at the first years of the 20th century, even if many of them might be hitting you at this exact moment. They could be correctly identified only in the 1930's. See the "Identification" section on the wikipedia's article for details. They require quite softiscate equipment and technology in order to be detected and identified.

Following death

Quoting wikipedia:

Early speculation on the sources of cosmic rays included a 1934 proposal by Baade and Zwicky suggesting cosmic rays originated from supernovae. A 1948 proposal by Horace W. Babcock suggested that magnetic variable stars could be a source of cosmic rays. Subsequently in 1951, Y. Sekido et al. identified the Crab Nebula as a source of cosmic rays. Since then, a wide variety of potential sources for cosmic rays began to surface, including supernovae, active galactic nuclei, quasars, and gamma-ray bursts.

Supernovae are massive stars that blow up spectacular deaths. Nebulae (like Crab Nebulae) are supernova remnants, so created by some star deaths. Gamma-ray bursts are theorized to be created in supernovas and neutron stars merges (neutron stars are a possible result of supernovas). Active galactic nuclei and quasars are brilliant accretion discs of supermassive blackholes, and both a black hole and their accretion discs are implied to death of stars.

We fade too

When cosmic rays interact with Earth's particles (mainly in atmosphere), they'll fade. It is easier to explain with this wikipedia's picture:

And quoting the text:

Primary cosmic rays primarily originate from outside the Solar System and sometimes even the Milky Way. When they interact with Earth's atmosphere, they are converted to secondary particles.

When cosmic rays enter the Earth's atmosphere they collide with atoms and molecules, mainly oxygen and nitrogen. The interaction produces a cascade of lighter particles, a so-called air shower secondary radiation that rains down, including x-rays, muons, protons, alpha particles, pions, electrons, and neutrons.

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  • $\begingroup$ A very comprehensive answer, but unfortunately incorrect. Unstable isotopes do exist, though not for long. Better-fitting responses for clues #1 and #3 appear in other answers/comments. Nobody has cracked #5 yet. $\endgroup$ – Gordon K Sep 24 '15 at 10:04
  • $\begingroup$ @GordonK Ok, I will try to think in something else. $\endgroup$ – Victor Stafusa Sep 24 '15 at 10:12

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