At the centre of this unusual hand-shaped nebula is PSR B1509-58, a pulsar just 20km in diameter that spins 7 times per second. Pulsars are the remains of giant stars after they blow away their outer layers and contract in on themselves at death.
Can you see the shape of a hand in this new X-ray image?
The hand might look like an X-ray from the doctor’s office, but it is actually a cloud of material ejected from a star that exploded. NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has imaged the structure in high-energy X-rays for the first time, shown in blue. Lower-energy X-ray light previously detected by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory is shown in green and red.
Nicknamed the “Hand of God,” this object is called a pulsar wind nebula. It’s powered by the leftover, dense core of a star that blew up in a supernova explosion. The stellar corpse, called PSR B1509-58, or B1509 for short, is a pulsar: it rapidly spins around, seven times per second, firing out a particle wind into the material around it – material that was ejected in the star’s explosion. These particles are interacting with magnetic fields around the material, causing it to glow with X-rays. The result is a cloud that looks like an open hand. The pulsar itself can’t be seen in this picture, but is located near the bright white spot.
Illusions in the Cosmic Clouds : Pareidolia is the psychological phenomenon where people see recognizable shapes in clouds, rock formations, or otherwise unrelated objects or data. There are many examples of this phenomenon on Earth and in space.
When an image from NASAs Chandra X-ray Observatory of PSR B1509-58 a spinning neutron star surrounded by a cloud of energetic particles was released in 2009, it quickly gained attention because many saw a hand-like structure in the X-ray emission.
In a new image of the system, X-rays from Chandra in gold are seen along with infrared data from NASAs Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer telescope in red, green and blue. Pareidolia may strike again as some people report seeing a shape of a face in WISEs infrared data. What do you see?
NASAs Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, also took a picture of the neutron star nebula in 2014, using higher-energy X-rays than Chandra.
PSR B1509-58 is about 17,000 light-years from Earth.
JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the WISE mission for NASA. NASAs Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandras science and flight operations.