PHOTO IN THE NEWS: Pulsar Creates Cosmic "Hand"

pulsar hand nebula picture
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April 6, 2009--A new x-ray image has revealed an unusual hand-shaped nebula that brings a whole new meaning to the expression "reach for the stars."

NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory recently snapped this shot of energetic particles streaming from a pulsar—the rapidly rotating core left behind after a very massive star exploded as a supernova.

Known as B1509, the pulsar is thought to be about 1,700 years old and lies roughly 17,000 light-years from Earth.

The tiny pulsar is just 12 miles (19.3 kilometers) wide. But it is spinning so fast—it makes seven complete rotations every second—that the particles it spews have created a nebula spanning 150 light-years.

The pulsar's rapid rotation likely helped create the nebula's odd shape. Its finger-like pillars appear to be transferring energy to a nearby gas cloud, which glows orange and red in x-rays.

—Victoria Jaggard

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