April 7th, 2009 11:51 EST
Celestial Spectacle Resembles Humanity's Timeless Quest for Meaning
In its final stages of existence, stars become what are deemed pulsars: cosmic bodies that are, in size and ebullience, mere shadows they once were. As a last gasp on the universal template, pulsars wildly spin and emit energy across space, creating a light show that is a sight to behold.
Astronomers have been tracked the last phases of the pulsar, PSR B1509-58, which has long since shrunk into an orb about 12 miles in diameter and continues losing energy.
Before the star`s death however, it mustered one final hurrah to wow earthlings in the form of a hand guiding us toward the light.
NASA`s Chandra X-ray Observatory released new pictures showing high-energy X-rays radiating from the nebula surrounding the pulsar. What makes the pictures remarkable is that the rays were colored blue, and in a transcendental game of connect-the-dots, the pulsar`s energy forms a hand that appears to be reaching for the timeless red light around it.
These poignant images are created by both the fervent pace at which the pulsar is spinning: about seven times a second, and the amount of energy effusing from the dying star.
Scientists believe that strong magnetic fields may be the cause of the ethereal magic. Magnetic fields involved in nebulas are 15 trillion times more powerful than the Earth`s own gravitational pull: the main catalyst in the wonderous anomaly. The tandem of the purportedly magnetized nebula and the electrons and ions being pulled away from the pulsar by the field result in the energy transforming into X-rays.
Astronomers think the red light is really a gas cloud, near the pulsar, called RCW 89, being energized by the "outstretched" fingers created by the PSR B1509-58 nebula.
Though this magnificent display is a mere speck to some on our planet, the whole act, in reality, stretches 150 light years across and is approximately 17,000 light years away from Earth.
For those of you unfamiliar with what a light-year is, a light-year is the distance that light travels in a year, hence the name. And for those not able to recall the conversions we needed to know from science courses, one light-year is equivalent to 6 trillion miles or 10 trillion kilometers.
This means that the whole vision of this fading star actually occurred 17,000 years ago, and is only now reaching our planet.