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SALT LAKE CITY — NASA has nicknamed one of its newest images the "Hand of God."
An X-ray image taken with NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array has been gaining attention because of the structure's resemblance to a hand. The "Hand of God" is the image of a cloud of material a star 17,000 light-years away ejected after it exploded, according to NuSTAR.
"We don't know if the hand shape is an optical illusion," said Hongjun An of McGill University in a statement. "With NuSTAR, the hand looks more like a fist, which is giving us some clues."
After the star's violent death, the core has been spewing leftover particles from the supernova while spinning almost seven times every second. The material has been interacting with magnetic fields, which NuSTAR said created a cloud shaped like a hand and made it appear to glow when captured on an X-ray image.
NuSTAR said one of the big mysteries of the image is whether the nebula's material is actually shaped like a hand or whether particles from the dead star, known as a pulsar, are interacting with the material in a specific way to make it look like a hand. The pulsar can't be seen in the image, but is located near the bright white spot in the palm of the hand.
Astronomers believe the pulsar is heating the red cloud, a separate structure called RCW 89, seen at the fingertips. In later images, NuSTAR said the hand-shaped cloud appeared to shift shape into a fist, with the fingers shrinking faster than the lower portion of the structure.
NuSTAR was launched into space to observe black holes, dead stars and other objects with X-ray images on June 13, 2012.
"NuSTAR's unique viewpoint, in seeing the highest-energy X-rays, is showing us well-studied objects and regions in a whole new light," said Fiona Harrison, the mission's principal investigator at the California Institute of Technology in a statement.