Spectacular X-ray image reveals ‘hand of God’

January 10, 2014 by  
Filed under Wind Energy Tips

A stunning new X-ray image captured by a NASA camera has been nicknamed the “hand of God” for its eerie resemblance to an X-ray of a human hand. NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, captured the unique image with high-energy X-rays shown in blue. The other colors in the image are previous detections with lower-energy X-rays. While the image might resemble a human hand, it is really a cloud of material ejected from a star that exploded, a statement NASA explains. Called a pulsar wind nebula, it is powered by the remaining energy in the leftover core of the former star.

The former star is called PSR B1509-58, or B1509 for short, and it is a pulsar, meaning that it spins rapidly (seven rotations per second), which causes it to blow a particle wind into the material around it, creating the so-called hand of God. The particles then interact with magnetic fields in the area, which is what causes it to glow under X-rays. The pulsar can be seen in some of the images and is located close to the bright white spot. Scientists are unsure if the material is actually shaped similar to a hand or whether it is just a coincidence because of the way the particles are interacting and moving.

“We don’t know if the hand shape is an optical illusion,” explains Hongjun An, of McGill University in Montreal, in a statement obtained by LiveScience. “With NuSTAR, the hand looks more like a fist, which is giving us some clues.”

The NuSTAR image is helping scientists to determine the actual shape of the pulsar wind nebula. The hand shrinks in the image captured by NuSTAR, and it does not shrink equally. The northern region shrinks more than the southern region, leading scientists to believe that the two are shaped differently. The red cloud at the end of the hand-shape is a different structure entirely, that scientists believe is being heated by the pulsar wind, causing it to glow with the X-ray light.

Seeing the hand of god in the image is an example of pareidolia, a phenomenon in which people see specific images, such as a hand, in a random shape. Another common example is seeing the “man in the moon;” a shape formed by the arrangement of the craters on the moon’s surface. Despite the resemblance, scientists continue to discover more about the very real and scientific space cloud.

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