'Hand of God' seen in space

NuStar's new image shows the hand in more vivid colour

The striking image of a hand-shaped formation in space, dubbed the ‘hand of God’, has been released by Nasa scientists.

Located more than 17,000 light years away from Earth the unusual formation of space matter was created when a cloud of gas and material was ejected from a star that exploded.

Nasa said: “The stellar corpse, called PSR B1509-58, or B1509 for short, is a pulsar: it rapidly spins around, seven times per second, firing out a particle wind into the material around it - material that was ejected in the star's explosion.

“These particles are interacting with magnetic fields around the material, causing it to glow with x-rays. The result is a cloud that, in previous images, looked like an open hand.”

On the space agency’s website experts explain that these types of neutron stars are created when massive stars run out of fuel and collapse and that in this case the star had collapsed so much that it was only 12 miles across and very dense. The collapse of the star caused an explosion that propelled gas and other material out into the immediate surrounding area of space.

The interaction between space particles and the released gas is what, when photographed with a special camera, created the amazing image.

It is not the first time this ‘hand’ image has been captured by Nasa's Chandra X-ray Observatory, as an earlier, less clear picture was released by the space agency in 2009. However, this new image was taken by the agency's "black-hole hunting" Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuStar) which is able to see even the highest energy x-rays.

It is thought the clarity of the image could help answer the question of whether the pulsar particles are interacting with the material in a specific way to make it look like a hand, or if the material is in fact shaped like a hand.

At the centre of this image made by Nasa's Chandra X-ray Observatory is a very young and powerful pulsar, which is known as PSR B1509-58MIT, B.Gaensler et al - Nasa

At the centre of this image made by Nasa's Chandra X-ray Observatory is a very young and powerful pulsar, which is known as PSR B1509-58

Nasa said: “NuSTAR's view is providing new clues to the puzzle. The hand actually shrinks in the NuSTAR image, looking more like a fist, as indicated by the blue color.

“The northern region, where the fingers are located, shrinks more than the southern part, where a jet lies, implying the two areas are physically different.”

After studying the image astronomers now think the pulsar's wind is heating the cloud, causing it to glow with lower-energy x-ray light.

The hand is thought to have been nicknamed the 'hand of God' because of it's similarity to a detail from the famous ceiling fresco by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, known as The Hands of God and Adam.