Weird Science Weekly: New telescope view fleshes out the ‘Hand of God’


In this week's installment of Weird Science Weekly, we're looking at some of the strangest stories in the world of science, including a new x-ray telescopic view of the Hand of God, scientists creating a dragon for a little girl and a band of artists taking over the moon!

The 'Hand of God' reaches out from a dead star

The way our brains pull familiar objects out of completely random scenes in nature (which is called pareidolia) always fascinates me, and this example produced by NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and Chandra X-ray Observatory is a great one.

Located roughly 17,000 light years away, this 'Hand' is actually what's known as a pulsar wind nebula. It was created when a dying star went supernova long ago, throwing off its outer layers and leaving behind its core as a pulsar that astronomers call PSR B1509-58. The pulsar is deep inside the bright blue/white centre of the object, spinning at a rate of seven times every second, and throwing off a particle wind that interacts with the magnetic fields of the cloud of gas, causing it to emit x-rays. A previous image, taken in 2009 by the Chandra X-ray Observatory, showed the hand-like structure of the nebula, but astronomers were curious if the structure really looked like that, or if it was just an optical illusion created by the particle interactions.

The above image is a combination of the low-energy x-ray data from Chandra (greens and reds) and the high-energy x-rays seen by NuSTAR (in blue), and it still shows the hand-like structure. However, apparently with just the NuSTAR data, the 'fingers' shrink back, and the nebula looks like a fist rather than an open hand. According to the scientists examining the data, this is offering them some clues to the nebula's structure, and with the original Chandra image seeming more ghostly or skeletal, this new one definitely fleshes out the hand.

[ Related: Weird Science Weekly: We may be living in a holographic projection ]

Scientists' apology to little girl includes a 3D printed titanium dragon

A seven-year-old Australian girl recently wrote a very cute, very polite letter to the scientists at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), asking if they could make her a pet dragon.

They issued an apology, saying "Over the past 87 odd years we have not been able to create a dragon or dragon eggs. We have sighted an eastern bearded dragon at one of our telescopes, observed dragonflies and even measured body temperatures of the mallee dragon. But our work has never ventured into dragons of the mythical, fire breathing variety. And for this Australia, we are sorry."

However, rather than just leaving it at that, since they had promised little Sophie they'd look into it, they turned to their ability to 3D print using titanium. Here's a video of them designing and printing out a little 'Toothless' for the girl.

While this story is a bit more 'cool' than 'weird', it just illustrates the excellent sense of humour that many scientists have, and their willingness to investigate pretty much any topic that raises its head.

[ Related: Weird Science Weekly: NASA satellite reveals the rainbow sun ]

Embassy of the Republic of the Moon opens in London

No, we're not being invaded by moon aliens. In fact, this is quite the opposite. An international group of artists is concerned about the future colonization and possibly exploitation of the moon by humans. So, to keep the moon as it was intended, as a resource to be freely used by all humanity, they've decided to take matters into their own hands and claim the moon for themselves.

If this seems like a frivolous endeavor, these artists actually have some valid concerns. Noone who has landed on the moon so far has tried to claim it for their own, but there's a treaty signed years ago — the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 — that says that governments of Earth can't lay claim to any part of the moon. However, because the governments of the time probably didn't consider it likely for private citizens to land on the moon (or maybe they figured further treaties would come in the future), there's no provisions against people or corporations making those claims. With private spaceflight companies extending their reach beyond the Earth these days, and the December 31, 2015 deadline for Google's Lunar XPRIZE, it's possible this could become an issue soon.

Republic of the Moon is an art exhibit that opens up today Friday, January 10th, at The Bargehouse gallery, along the shores of the Thames River, in central London. It will include such things as a 'Lunar Migration Bird Facility' for 'moon geese', a version of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata after it has been bounced off the moon's surface in Morse Code, a mock protest about lunar colonization, and the Pop Rock Moon Shop selling lunar 'ephemera'.

You can download their manifesto here, and enjoy the show, for free, until February 2nd.

[ More Geekquinox: Thousands of giant ice boulders roll up along Lake Michigan shoreline ]

Keep your eyes on the wonders of science, and if you spot anything particularly strange you'd like me to check out for next week, comment below or drop me a line on Twitter!

(Images courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech/McGill, NASA/Sean Smith)

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