February 26, 2024 at 12:33 pm

NASA Spots Ghostly Skeleton Hand 16,000 Light-Years Away

by Jen Sako

16,000 light-years away from our cozy little Earth, in the vastness of space, astronomers have stumbled upon a celestial surprise—a ghostly skeleton hand.

Caught on camera by NASA’s newest space paparazzi, the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE), this spooky image reveals a pulsar wind nebula named MSH 15-52.

So, what’s a pulsar wind nebula? It’s best described as rapidly spinning neutron stars emitting magnetic field-powered jets of energetic particles.

In MSH 15-52’s case, these jets decided to throw a Halloween party and formed the eeriest, ghostly hand ever seen in the cosmos.

Source: Chandra X-Ray Observatory

“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,” said Stanford University’s Roger Romani, lead author of a new paper published in the Astrophysical Journal, in a statement.

NASA’s IXPE went into detective mode, spying on the nebula for 17 days—the longest celestial stakeout since 2021.

Source: Chandra X-Ray Observatory

“We’re all familiar with X-rays as a diagnostic medical tool for humans,” said co-author and Stanford physics PhD Josephine Wong in the statement. “Here we’re using X-rays in a different way, but they are again revealing information that is otherwise hidden from us.”

This cosmic hand revelation isn’t just about eerie visuals; it’s a deep dive into the mingling magnetic fields and pulsar wind nebula shenanigans.

“We’ve uncovered the life history of super energetic matter and antimatter particles around the pulsar,” said co-author and  Stanford postdoctoral research fellow Niccolò Di Lalla. “This teaches us about how pulsars can act as particle accelerators.”

Check out the video explaining more…

So, next time you look up at the night sky, remember, somewhere out there, a ghostly hand is giving us a starry high-five.

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