NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has showcased the telescope’s talent with an image showing the energized remains of a dead star, a structure nicknamed the “Hand of God” after its resemblance to a hand.
“NuSTAR’s unique viewpoint, in seeing the highest-energy X-rays, is showing us well-studied objects and regions in a whole new light,” Fiona Harrison, the mission’s principal investigator at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, said
NuSTAR launched into space June 13, 2012, on a mission to explore the high-energy X-ray universe. It is observing black holes, dead and exploded stars and other extreme objects in our own Milky Way galaxy and beyond
The new “Hand of God” image shows a nebula 17,000 light-years away, powered by a dead, spinning star called PSR B1509-58, or B1509 for short.
The dead star, called a pulsar, is the leftover core of a star that exploded in a supernova.
The pulsar is only about 19 kilometers (12 miles) in diameter but packs a big punch: it is spinning around nearly seven times every second, spewing particles into material that was upheaved during the star’s violent death.
These particles are interacting with magnetic fields around the ejected material, causing it to glow with X-rays. The result is a cloud that looks like a hand
One of the big mysteries of this object, called a pulsar wind nebula, is whether the pulsar’s particles are interacting with the material in a specific way to make it appear as a hand, or if the material is in fact shaped like a hand
“We don’t know if the hand shape is an optical illusion,” Hongjun An of McGill University, Montreal, Canada, said.
“With NuSTAR, the hand looks more like a fist, which is giving us some clues,” An said.