Featured Image: The Cosmic Hand in Polarized Light

Some 16,000 light-years from Earth, a ghostly hand glows with X-ray light. The distinctive “Cosmic Hand” is a pulsar wind nebula: an X-ray-emitting cloud powered by charged-particle winds from the spinning remnant of a massive star that exploded as a supernova. In X-ray images, the Cosmic Hand has a thumb and three fingers formed by brighter ridges of emission and a delicate wrist illuminated by the pulsar’s powerful jet. Recently, a team led by Roger Romani (Stanford University) used the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) to make the first observations of polarized X-ray light from the Cosmic Hand. The images above show the degree of polarization detected and the direction of the derived magnetic field (left image, white and yellow bars atop an X-ray image from the Chandra X-ray Observatory) and the 2–8-kiloelectronvolt brightness (right image, greyscale). The new measurements show that the polarization generally follows the structure of the nebula, especially the thumb and the arched region surrounding the jet. To learn more about the structure and magnetic fields of this pulsar wind nebula, be sure to check out the full article linked below.


“The Polarized Cosmic Hand: IXPE Observations of PSR B1509−58/MSH 15−52,” Roger W. Romani et al 2023 ApJ 957 23. doi:10.3847/1538-4357/acfa02