'Hand of God' In Space Captured In NASA Space Telescope Images: Appears To Be The Result Of A Recently Exploded Star

on January 10, 2014 9:40 AM EST

Hand of God
The so-called "Hand of God" image shows a cloud of material ejected from a recently exploded star. It is a composition of a few X-ray images. (Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/McGill)

A NASA X-ray image taken exactly at the moment when a star exploded and an enormous cloud of material burst forth is being called the Hand of God.

The image is actually a composition of a few images, at different light wavelengths. The green and red parts were imaged at an earlier time, using lower-energy X-rays. That part of the image was taken by the Chandra X-ray observatory orbiting 360 miles above the Earth. The blue part of the photo was formed in consequence of a supernova explosion resulting in the birth of a pulsar, a 12-mile wide star spewing out enormous amounts of electromagnetic energy and an enormous dust and gas cloud with the width of 150 light years. The NASA scientists estimate that the actual event depicted by the X-rays may have taken place 17,000 years ago. That event was witnessed in detail by NuSTAR, NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array.

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In a press statement, NuSTAR telescope principal investigator Fiona Harrison, of the California Institute of Technology, claimed that NuSTAR helped them see the highest energy X-rays "in a whole new light."

What you are actually looking at in the image is a pulsar wind nebula - known as PSR B1509-58 - that was produced by a star explosion in a supernova. After the explosion, what remains is a pulsar that spins 7 times per second, and blows a wind of particles that interact with nearby magnetic fields to produce an X-ray glow shaped like a hand. The pulsar itself, however, cannot be seen, according to NASA officials. 

The scientists also aren't sure whether the ejected particles appear like a shape of hand or are actually that way. "We don't know if the hand shape is an optical illusion," Hongjun An, of McGill University in Montreal, said in a statement. "With NuSTAR, the hand looks more like a fist, which is giving us some clues."

The "Hand of God" phenomenon could possibly be explained by the psychological phenomenon known as Pareidolia. Accordingly, we tend to see familiar shapes in random and meaningless images. Many people see animals or familiar faces in clouds, the man in the moon and familiar images in inkblots. These are all examples of Pareidolia. Whether or not the image is supernatural "Hand of God", there is absolutely no doubt that the image depicts a natural astrophysical phenomenon.

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