NASA Chandra, IXPE telescopes showcase stunning ghostly cosmic hand
NASA’s X-ray telescopes Chandra and IXPE have observed a ghostly cosmic hand in space, 16,000 light-years away from the Earth.
The space is filled with mysteries, and no matter how many of them we uncover, finding something new still instills a feeling of awe. That is one of the reasons why space agencies such as NASA invest so much in space exploration. In 2021, it launched the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE), a space observatory with three identical telescopes designed to measure the polarization of cosmic X-rays. Together with the NASA Chandra telescope, it has now discovered a stunning pulsar wind nebula. Named MSH 15-52, it resembles a bony human hand, and NASA is calling it the ‘ghostly cosmic hand'.
Posting about the observation in a blog post, NASA said, “In 2001, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory first observed the pulsar PSR B1509-58 and revealed that its pulsar wind nebula (referred to as MSH 15-52) resembles a human hand. The pulsar is located at the base of the “palm” of the nebula. MSH 15-52 is located 16,000 light-years from Earth”.
Now, NASA IXPE has observed MSH 15-52 for about 17 days, the longest it has looked at any single object since it launched in December 2021, and made some interesting observations.
NASA captures the ghostly cosmic hand
“The IXPE data gives us the first map of the magnetic field in the ‘hand. 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 Roger Romani of Stanford University in California, who led the study.
It should be noted that the NASA IXPE provides information about the electric field orientation of X-rays, determined by the magnetic field of the X-ray source, known as X-ray polarization. NASA says that in large regions of MSH 15-52, the amount of polarization remains extremely high, as a result, it is reaching the maximum level expected from theoretical work. To achieve that strength, the magnetic field must be very straight and uniform, meaning there is little turbulence in those regions of the pulsar wind nebula.
“We're all familiar with X-rays as a diagnostic medical tool for humans,” said co-author Josephine Wong, also of Stanford. “Here we're using X-rays in a different way, but they are again revealing information that is otherwise hidden from us.”
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