God’s hand, captured in an exceptional astronomical photograph

The x-ray image depicts a cloud of material generated by the explosion of a star with a very impressive form, which inspired the name given by researchers, “God’s hand”. The cloud made up of cosmic matter was photographed with the aid of two astronomy devices at NASA: the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), which has captivated the image in high energy x-rays (these are the white portions of the image), and the Chandra X-ray Observatory, which, using low energy x-rays, has captured the portions of the image represented in red and green.

Credit foto: NASA/JPL-Caltech/McGill

Credit foto: NASA/JPL-Caltech/McGill

The photo represents a so-called plerion or PWN – pulsar wind nebula, a nebula whose dynamics is dependent on stellar wind emitted by a pulsar, a small and very dense neutron star that rotates and emits electromagnetic radiation fascicles. Neutron stars are the very dense remains of exploded stars called supernovas.

In the present case, the explosion has left behind the pulsar labeled PSR B1509-58, which rotates at a 7 rotation per second speed, and it emits a flux of particles known as stellar wind through the cloud of matter created by the explosion. When these particles interact with close by magnetic fields, a hand-shaped x-radiation is emitted. The pulsar is located near the shiny white dot seen in the image, but it can’t actually be seen in the photo. Researches have no idea whether the matter ejected as a result of the explosion is hand-shaped, or the particles emitted by the pulsar make it look like a hand.

The red cloud that forms the “fingers” is a separate structure labeled RCW 89. It is possible that solar wind produced by the pulsar heats up the cloud, thus making possible the emission of low energy x-ray radiation.

„God’s hand” is actually an example of a mental process called pareidolia – a psychological phenomenon that involves the perception of familiar contours or forms in vague or accidental images; a good example is when we see animal shapes in clouds. With its entire supernatural look, „God’s hand” photographed by NASA researchers is simply the result of a natural astrophysical phenomenon.

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