NASA’s new telescope captures eerie remnants of a supernova 16,000 light-years from Earth

By Stacy Liberatore For

12:33 31 Oct 2023, updated 12:42 31 Oct 2023

  • NASA’s new telescope has hit a milestone since launching in December 2021
  • It observed a single object in space for a record 17 days
  • READ MORE:  The Crab Nebula as you’ve never seen it before

NASA’s new X-ray telescope observed the haunting ‘bones’ of a ghostly cosmic hand 16,000 light-years from Earth for a record 17 days.

While the formation has been previously observed, this instance is the longest time the telescope has looked at since launching in December 2021.

The eerie formation, which appears to be an arm reaching into space, is a remnant of a supernova explosion 1,700 years ago, called MSH 15-52, one of the youngest in the Milky Way galaxy.

The supernova that resulted in the unusual pattern also created an ultra-dense, magnetized star called a pulsar. 

NASA’s new X-ray telescope observed the haunting ‘bones’ of a ghostly cosmic hand 16,000 light-years from Earth for a record of 17 days

‘Around 1,500 years ago, a in our galaxy ran out of nuclear fuel to burn,’ researchers led by Stanford University in California shared in a statement.

‘When this happened, the star collapsed onto itself and formed an extremely dense object called a neutron star.’

NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory first spotted MSH 15-52 in 2001, also capturing a hand-like formation.

But the agency’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) has snapped even more details of the haunting remains, along with a ghoulish purple glow.

Roger Romani of Stanford University in California, who led the study, said: ‘The IXPE data gives us the first map of the in the ‘hand.

‘The charged particles producing the X-rays travel along the, determining the basic shape of the nebula like the bones do in a person’s hand.’

NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory first spotted MSH 15-52 in 2001 (pictured), also capturing a hand-like formation

IXPE provides information about the electric field orientation of X-rays, determined by the magnetic field of the X-ray source – this is called X-ray polarization. 

‘In large regions of MSH 15-52, the amount of polarization is remarkably high, reaching the maximum level expected from theoretical work,’ the researchers shared.

‘To achieve that strength, the magnetic field must be very straight and uniform, meaning there is little turbulence in the pulsar wind nebula regions.’

While the entire formation is stunning, the team pointed out a particularly interesting feature of MSH 15-52 – a bright X-ray jet directed from the pulsar to the ‘wrist’ at the bottom of the image. 

‘The new IXPE data reveal that the polarization at the start of the jet is low, likely because this is a turbulent region with complex, tangled magnetic fields associated with the generation of high-energy particles,’ the teams noted. 

‘By the end of the jet, the magnetic field lines appear to straighten and become much more uniform, causing the polarization to become much larger.’

The study results have suggested that particles are given an energy boost in complex turbulent regions near the pulsar at the base of the palm and flow to areas where the magnetic field is uniform along the wrist, fingers and thumb.

Co-author Niccolò Di Lalla, also of Stanford, said: ‘We’ve uncovered the life history of super energetic matter and antimatter particles around the pulsar.

‘This teaches us about how pulsars can act as particle accelerators.’


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