To mark Halloween, NASA has released a spooky image of what it describes as a “ghostly cosmic hand.”
It actually shows MSH 15-52, a cloud of energetic particles that resembles a human hand.
NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) telescopes worked together to capture the amazing image.
Chandra first observed the pulsar PSR B1509-58 in 2001, with scientists immediately noticing how its pulsar wind nebula (MSH 15-52) closely resembles a portion of a human body.
Pulsar wind nebulae form from intense winds of jets of particles and matter flowing away from the poles of a pulsar, a highly magnetized and rapidly rotating collapsed star. The bright white spot near the base of the palm is the pulsar itself and is located about 16,000 light years from Earth.
NASA’s newest X-ray telescope, IXPE, has studied MSH 15-52 for just over two weeks, the longest time it has spent observing a single object since its launch in December 2021.
“The IXPE data give us the first map of the magnetic field ‘in the hand,'” said Roger Romani of Stanford University in California, who led the study. “The charged particles that produce the X-rays travel with the magnetic field, determining the basic shape of the nebula, like the bones in a person’s hand.”
Commenting on the research, co-author Josephine Wong of Stanford University said: “We are all familiar with X-rays as a diagnostic medical tool for humans. Here we are using X-rays in a different way, but they are again revealing information that is otherwise hidden from us.
Astronomers are using X-ray images like this one to learn more about how such objects form in deep space.