PSR B1509-58 is a pulsar wind nebula, nicknamed the Hand of God. It is approximately 17,000 light-years away in the constellation of Circinus (the Compass) discovered by the Einstein X-Ray Observatory in 1982, and it sits in a nebula that spans about 150 light years. In this image, the lowest energy X-rays that Chandra detects are red, the medium range is green, and the most energetic ones are coloured blue. Neutron stars are created when massive stars run out of fuel and collapse. B1509, only 12 miles in diameter, is spinning completely around almost 7 times every second and is releasing energy into its environment at a prodigious rate, presumably because it has an intense magnetic field at its surface, estimated to be 15 trillion times stronger than the Earth’s magnetic field. The combination of rapid rotation and ultra-strong magnetic field makes B1509 one of the most powerful electromagnetic generators in the galaxy. This generator drives an energetic wind of electrons and ions away from the neutron star. As the electrons move through the magnetized nebula, they radiate away their energy and create the elaborate nebula seen by Chandra.
When an image from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory of PSR B1509-58 was released in 2009, it quickly gained attention because many saw a hand-like structure in the X-ray emission. In a new image of the system, X-rays from Chandra in gold are seen along with infrared data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), some see a face. Pareidolia is the psychological phenomenon where people see recognizable shapes in clouds, rock formations, or otherwise unrelated objects or data. The pulsar itself can’t be seen in this picture, but is located near the bright white spot. One of the big mysteries of this 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.
NuSTAR’s view is providing new clues to the puzzle. The hand actually shrinks, looking more like a fist, as indicated by the blue color. The northern region, where the fingers are located, shrinks more than the southern part, where a jet lies, implying the two areas are physically different. The red cloud at the end of the finger region is a different structure, called RCW 89. Astronomers think the pulsar’s wind is heating the cloud, causing it to glow with lower-energy X-ray light.
Credits: NASA, Sci-News, Sky, Slash Gear, Space, Wikipedia.