New 'Hand of God' photo captured by Nasa

NuSTAR captures dead star and distant black holes

Heather Saul
Friday 10 January 2014 13:16 GMT
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NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has imaged the structure in high-energy X-rays for the first time, shown in blue
NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has imaged the structure in high-energy X-rays for the first time, shown in blue (NASA/JPL-Caltech/McGill)

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A new image of the pulsar wind nebula known as the 'Hand of God' has been captured by US space agency Nasa's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR).

The photograph captured by the telescope shows the nebula 17,000 light-years away, which is powered by a dead, spinning star called PSR B1509-58. The pulsar itself is just 19 kilometres long, but spins around nearly seven times every second.

As it spins, it throws out particles upheaved during the star's death, which interact with magnetic fields around the ejected material, causing it to glow with X-rays.

For Nasa, one of the biggest remaining mysteries surrounding the object is whether the pulsar particles are interacting with the material in a specific way to make it look like a hand, or if the material is in fact shaped like a hand.

A range of supermassive black holes lights up this new image from NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR.
A range of supermassive black holes lights up this new image from NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Yale University)

"We don't know if the hand shape is an optical illusion," Hongjun An of McGill University, Montreal, Canada told Nasa. "With NuSTAR, the hand looks more like a fist, which is giving us some clues."

NuSTAR has imaged the structure in high-energy X-rays for the first time, shown in blue. In the image, lower-energy X-ray light previously detected by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory is shown in green and red.

Fiona Harrison, the mission's principal investigator at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California said the telescopes unique viewpoint is allowing them to see "the highest-energy X-rays" and is "showing us well-studied objects and regions in a whole new light."

The telescope also produced another image of a range of supermassive black holes lit up. Nasa said all of the dots in this image are active black holes tucked inside the hearts of galaxies, with colors representing different energies of X-ray light.

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