To commemorate Halloween, NASA has released a spooky image described as a “cosmic ghost hand”.
It actually shows MSH 15-52, a cloud of energetic particles that resembles a human hand.
NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory Telescope and Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) worked together to capture the stunning image.
Chandra first observed pulsar PSR B1509-58 in 2001, and scientists quickly noticed how the pulsar wind nebula (MSH 15-52) bore a striking resemblance to parts of the human body.
Pulsar wind nebulae form from strong winds of particles and jets of matter flowing away from the poles of pulsars, which are highly magnetized, rapidly rotating collapsed stars. The bright white spot near the base of the palm is the pulsar itself and is located about 16,000 light years from Earth.
NASA’s newest X-ray telescope, IXPE, has been studying MSH 15-52 for more than two weeks, which is the longest period of time spent observing any object since its launch in December 2021.
“The IXPE data give us the first map of the magnetic field in the ‘hand,’” said Roger Romani of Stanford University in California, who led the research. “The charged particles that produce the X-rays move along magnetic fields, determining the basic shape of the nebula, much like the bones in a human hand do.”
Commenting on the research, co-author Josephine Wong, also from Stanford University, said: “We are all familiar with X-rays as a medical diagnostic tool for humans. Here we use X-rays in a different way, but X-rays again reveal information that was hidden to us.”
Astronomers use X-Ray images like this to find out more about how objects like this form in space.