We gazed in wonder at the cool Nasa picture the ‘eye of god’. Now it’s the turn of the ‘hand of god’. A spinning star resembling a giant cosmic hand has been captured in images taken by a Nasa observatory orbiting miles above the Earth’s surface. The Chandra X-ray Observatory pictured the star, which measures 12 miles across, about 17,000 light years from Earth. What appears, with a little imagination, to be the outstretched fingers were created by a spinning neutron star known as a pulsar buried deep inside the fist, which releases energy as it rotates. Although the pulsar itself is only 12 miles in diameter, the cloud or nebula that it produces stretches across 150 light years of space.
If you look at the wrist of the hand, you’ll see a brighter swirl of gas. In the center of that blob is a tiny object, a neutron star called B1509: an incredibly dense sphere of subatomic particles, leftover when a massive star goes supernova. While the outer layers of the star explode outwards, the core of the star collapses, cramming twice the mass of the Sun into a ball only a few kilometers across. This newly born neutron star — called that because the pressure is so great in the collapsed object that electrons and protons are rammed together to form neutrons — is basically the definition of the word incredible: it spins several times per second, has a surface gravity millions of times that of the Earth (if you were on the surface you’d be crushed flatter than a good science fiction program’s chances to be renewed on Fox), and has a magnetic field 30 trillion times that of the Earth’s.
Dubbed the Hand of God, following on from an ‘Eye of God’ image released by European astronomers in February, the nebula pictured in the new X-ray was produced by the pulsar B1509, which is about 17,000 light years away.
Neutron stars are created when standard stars run out of fuel and collapse, and Nasa believes that the one pictured is rotating around seven times a second.
The golden-red lights in the image are actually part of a neighbouring gas cloud, which has been energised by the wind of electrons and ions being spewed out from the pulsar. The colours of the image represent different energy intensities – the blue lights are the areas of highest energy X-rays, followed by green and then red.
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