Real Halloween.  Seeing the hand of space in x-rays

Interestingly, thanks to advanced space telescopes capable of observing the Universe in the X-ray range, we will be able to take X-ray images of the “cosmic hand” in 2023. However, as is known from history lessons, Wilhelm Roentgen discovered X-ray radiation at the end The nineteenth century and used it to examine the bones of his wife’s hand. This was the beginning of this entire part of medicine. Certainly, the discoverer in 1895 did not even imagine that the rays he discovered would be used in space to monitor what would be used in space.

Today’s massive x-ray show. The magnetic field “bones” of the alien cosmic structure have been fabricated using two X-ray space telescopes. In this image we can observe the behavior of the corpse of a collapsed dead star and columns of ionized matter and antimatter particles.

Image is one thing. You can actually see a purple hand against the blackness of starry space. However, it is helpful to know what we are actually looking at. The history of this picture begins about 1,500 years ago, when a massive star that had been around for tens of millions of years exhausted its last supply of fuel and, under the influence of its own mass, collapsed in on itself, turning into a neutron star, an extremely massive star. A dense, compact body with the same mass and size as the Sun and Earth.

If we are dealing with a neutron star rotating on its axis and equipped with a strong magnetic field, we are dealing with a pulsar. The pulsar, in turn, is an excellent laboratory for studying conditions that cannot be replicated on Earth. For example, powerful streams of matter and antimatter could be emitted from the poles of a pulsar and escaped with strong winds. Such flows create so-called pulsating wind nebulae.

This is where our cosmic hand comes into play today. In 2001, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, which monitors the universe to this day in the X-ray range, observed the pulsar PSR B1509-58. The pulsar nebula resembles a human hand. The pulsar itself is located at the base of the gnomon, the brightest point in the image. What you see in the foreground, along with the pulsar, is currently located 16,000 light-years from Earth. but this is not all. At the end of 2021, NASA launched another It was the longest single object observed since the telescope’s mission began nearly two years ago. It is therefore not surprising that the data obtained is of amazing quality. For the first time, a detailed map of the hand’s magnetic field has been created. In this way, scientists determined that the charged particles that produce the X-rays move along magnetic field lines, following the shape of the nebula, just like the bones in a human hand.

A space hand composed of data from the Chandra and IXPE X-ray telescopes and infrared data from the Dark Energy Camera. Source: NASA/CXC/SAO/J. Schmidt

A particularly interesting feature of the pulsar nebula MSH 15-52 is the bright stream of X-rays directed from the pulsar into the “wrist” visible at the bottom of the image. Thanks to the IXPE telescope, it was possible to determine that the polarization of the radiation at the beginning of this jet is low, because it is a highly turbulent region in which magnetic fields are constantly intertwined with each other. However, at the end of the flow, the magnetic field lines straighten.

So it turns out that the turbulent region near the pulsar, or at the base of the hand, is where the molecules receive a strong boost of energy and flow into the region where the magnetic field is uniform along the wrist, fingers and thumb. So we can say that pulsars can act as a kind of particle accelerator.

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