NASA has revealed several stunning new images, including a new “hand of God” photo captured by its powerful “black hole hunting” Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuStar) that is uniquely capable of seeing “the highest-energy X-rays.”
The celestial “hand of God” is a nebula more than 17,000 light-years away. What is seen today was produced as a star exploded in a supernova, ejecting an “enormous cloud of material.” The remaining pulsar (not visible itself in the photograph) is now known as PSR B1509-58 (B1509). Small by space standards, the pulsar measures only about 12 miles across. The rapidly spinning expelled material appears blue in the photo and was imaged in high-energy X-rays by the NASA Chandra X-ray Observatory. The green and red portions of the image were previously identified with the use of lower energy X-rays. An investigator working with NuStar says that it “is showing us well-studied objects and regions in a whole new light.”
The hand-shaped X-ray illumination is believed to be the result of the expelled material interacting with magnetic fields nearby in space.The researchers cannot be certain whether the material is actually in the shape of a hand or if it is just the interaction with the pulsar that is causing it to seem that way. Another researcher said that with the implementation of NuStar’s technology “the hand looks more like a fist, which is giving us some clues.” Previous images of the “hand of God” showed the “hand” appearing much more open and outstretched.
The red area that appears near the end of the “hand of God’s” “fingers” is a separate celestial body that has been identified as RCW 89. It is believed that the pulsar’s wind may be creating heat that causes the cloud to produce the red X-ray glow.
NuStar was launched during the summer of 2012 as a part of a NASA mission led by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and is intended to explore not only high-energy X-rays but black holes and other extreme objects throughout our galaxy and even beyond its borders as well. NuStar’s current center of mission operations is at the University of California’s Berkeley campus.
The phenomenon of seeing familiar objects, such as the “hand of God” in this image, in otherwise vague images is called pareidolia by psychologists and also explains things like the human tendency to see things like meaningful shapes in clouds.
A second NuSTAR image newly captured by NASA shows the presence of multiple black holes approximately 16 billion light-years away in an area known to astronomers as the COSMOS field. The black holes are active, each at the center of a galaxy and feeding off surrounding material. NuSTAR’s unique technology has been able to better identify black holes that are often clouded in gas and dust, making them difficult to observe and understand. The NuSTAR team is hopeful that it will be able to provide many more specifics about the phenomenon of black holes and how they “grow and interact with” galaxies.
By Michele Wessel