Is it Halloween in space?
NASA released X-ray images of a collapsed dead star that bears an uncanny resemblance to the bones of a ‘ghostly cosmic hand’.
The spooky images, released just before Halloween and taken by two NASA X-ray space telescopes, show the remains of a collapsed dead star surviving through plumes of energized matter and antimatter particles.
The fragments reveal the magnetic field of a remarkable hand-shaped structure in space, located about 16,000 light years from Earth, according to NASA.
The collapsed star was once a giant star in our Milky Way but there was no nuclear fuel left to burn about 1,500 years ago. When that happened, the star collapsed on itself and formed an extremely dense object called a neutron star, scientists say.
The rotating neutron star and its powerful magnetic fields, called pulsars, created jets of matter and antimatter that moved away from the pulsar’s poles with intense wind forming a “pulsar wind nebula,” according to The NASA.
This neutron star’s pulsar wind nebula is known as MSH 15-52 and resembles the bones of a human hand.
It was first discovered by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory in 2001.
Today, NASA’s newest X-ray telescope, the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE), observed MSH 15-52 for about 17 days, the longest period it has observed an object since its launch in December 2021.
NASA has combined the imaging powers of telescopes to reveal the magnetic field ‘bones’ of the strange hand-shaped structure in space.
Roger Romani of Stanford University in California, who led the study, said the IXPE data provides scientists with the first map of the magnetic field in the “hand.”
“The charged particles producing the X-rays move along the magnetic field, determining the basic shape of the nebula, like bones do in a person’s hand,” Romani explained.
IXPE provides information about the orientation of the X-ray electric field, determined by the magnetic field of the X-ray source, called X-ray polarization.
An interesting feature of MSH 15-52 is a bright X-ray jet directed from the pulsar toward the “wrist” at the bottom of the image. The pulsar is located at the base of the “palm” of the nebula.
The new IXPE data reveal that the polarization at the start of the jet is low, likely because it is a turbulent region with complex and tangled magnetic fields associated with the generation of high-energy particles. At the end of the jet, the magnetic field lines appear to straighten out and become much more uniform, resulting in much greater polarization.
These results imply that particles receive an energy boost in the complex turbulent regions near the pulsar at the base of the palm and flow toward areas where the magnetic field is uniform along the wrist, fingers and thumb, the scientists said.
“We discovered the life history of super-energetic matter and antimatter particles around the pulsar,” said co-author Nicolò Di Lalla, also of Stanford. “This tells us how pulsars can act as particle accelerators.”
IXPE also detected similar magnetic fields for the pulsar wind nebulae “Vela” and “Crab”, implying that they could be common in these objects, the scientists revealed.
The images were released days after NASA announced its The Juno mission had spotted a haunting “face” on Jupiter.