TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — NASA has released images of a pulsar wind nebula, referred to as MSH 15-52, which closely resembles a ghostly cosmic hand.
Using the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer, NASA observed the nebula for 17 days, the longest it has looked at a single object since it launched in December 2021. It was first observed in 2001.
“The IXPE data gives 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 producing the X-rays travel along the magnetic field, determining the basic shape of the nebula like the bones do in a person’s hand.”
NASA said the pulsar is at the base of the “palm” of the nebula, and MSH 15-52 is about 16,000 light years away from Earth.
An interesting feature NASA pointed out was a bright X-ray jet directed from the pulsar to the “wrist” of the cosmic hand. New data shows the polarization at the start of the jet is low, likely due to a turbulent region associated with high-energy particles, but towards the end, the polarization becomes larger.
“To achieve that strength, the magnetic field must be very straight and uniform, meaning there is little turbulence in those regions of the pulsar wind nebula,” NASA said.
As a result, particles are given an energy boost at the base of the palm and flow to the wrist, fingers, and thumb, giving us the ghostly cosmic hand.
For further details on NASA’s X-ray imaging, visit NASA.gov.