Figuring out what powers the Universe's largest explosions can be a real challenge, as the explosion wipes out evidence of what caused it. Archival data can sometimes provide hints of what was in the area where things went boom, but a lot of the progress we've made comes down to physicists modeling some of the more extreme objects out there and seeing if they can recapitulate the details of the explosion.
That's where we're at with long gamma ray bursts (where "long" in this case means a couple of seconds). We've seen them happen, and astrophysicists have calculated that they could be emitted from a rapidly rotating, massive star. But we don't have a lot of examples of this sort of star to study in order to see if the physics of their explosions match up with our models. Now, a team of researchers thinks it has spotted one that, in combination with a second massive star, created the fantastic-looking pinwheel shown above. But detailed observations of the system suggest that the pinwheel is formed by materials that originated on a single star yet are moving at two different speeds—something we can't explain.
The serpent god
Technically, the new object goes by the absurdly memorable name 2XMM J160050.7–514245. Surveys spotted it because it was an oddity: unusually bright at certain infrared wavelengths. Follow-up observations revealed its sinuous form, which led the researchers to rename it from the "cumbersome" 2XMM J160050.7–514245 to Apep, which is the name of a serpent deity in Egyptian mythology.