Hubble Heritage Archive: Crab Nebula, M1

The text and images in this article were originally published on July 7, 2016, and reflect information about M1 available at that time.

Hubble Captures the Beating Heart of the Crab Nebula

Peering deep into the core of the Crab Nebula, this close-up image reveals the beating heart of one of the most historic and intensively studied remnants of a supernova, an exploding star. The inner region sends out clock-like pulses of radiation and tsunamis of charged particles embedded in magnetic fields.

The neutron star at the very center of the Crab Nebula has about the same mass as the Sun but compressed into an incredibly dense sphere that is only a few miles across. Spinning 30 times a second, the neutron star shoots out detectable beams of energy that make it look like it’s pulsating.

The NASA Hubble Space Telescope snapshot is centered on the region around the neutron star (the rightmost of the two bright stars near the center of this image) and the expanding, tattered, filamentary debris surrounding it. Hubble’s sharp view captures the intricate details of glowing gas, shown in red, that forms a swirling medley of cavities and filaments. Inside this shell is a ghostly blue glow that is radiation given off by electrons spiraling at nearly the speed of light in the powerful magnetic field around the crushed stellar core.

The neutron star is a showcase for extreme physical processes and unimaginable cosmic violence. Bright wisps are moving outward from the neutron star at half the speed of light to form an expanding ring. It is thought that these wisps originate from a shock wave that turns the high-speed wind from the neutron star into extremely energetic particles.

When this “heartbeat” radiation signature was first discovered in 1968, astronomers realized they had discovered a new type of astronomical object. Now astronomers know it’s the archetype of a class of supernova remnants called pulsars—or rapidly spinning neutron stars. These interstellar “lighthouse beacons” are invaluable for doing observational experiments on a variety of astronomical phenomena, including measuring gravity waves.

Observations of the Crab supernova were recorded by Chinese astronomers in 1054 A.D. The nebula, bright enough to be visible in amateur telescopes, is located 6,500 light-years away in the constellation Taurus.

Featured Image Credit: NASA and ESA
Acknowledgment: J. Hester (ASU) and M. Weisskopf (NASA/MSFC)

Fast Facts about M1

About this Object

Object Name:Crab Nebula, M1, NGC 1952
Object Description:Supernova Remnant
R.A. 05h 34m 32s
Dec. 22° 00 52
Distance:6,500 light-years (2,000 parsecs)

About the Data

Principle Astronomers:Data were provided by the HST proposals 9787 and 10526: J. Hester and J. Foy (ASU), and J. Morse (RPI); and proposal 13109: M. Weisskopf, A. Tennant, and C. Wilson-Hodge (NASA/MSFC), J. Arons (UC Berkeley), R. Blandford, R. Buehler, S. Funk, and Y. Uchiyama (Stanford University), P. Caraveo, A. De Luca, and M. Tavani (INAF), E. Costa (CNR), C. Ferrigno (Integral Science Data Center, Switzerland), D. Horns (DESY, Germany), A. Lobanov (Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, Germany), E. Max (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory), and R. Mignani (University College London).
Filters:F550M(V) and F606W(V)+POLV60
Exposure Dates:F550M(V): September 15, 2005 and January 10, 2013
F606W(V)+POLV60: August 8, 2003 and September

About this Image

Image Credit:NASA and ESA
Release Date:July 7, 2016
Color:This image is a composite of separate exposures acquired by the ACS/WFC instrument. Several filters were used to sample various wavelengths. The color results from assigning different hues (colors) to each monochromatic (grayscale) image associated with an individual filter. In this case, the assigned colors represent not only changes in different filters, but also the same filters taken on different exposure dates to highlight features that change over time.

Additional Images of the Crab Nebula


One thought on “Hubble Heritage Archive: Crab Nebula, M1

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  1. Pfantastic….when i was 15 or 16 – in the 1960 – I get to know the first time of M1 when I was on gymnasium – I got to know privatly not through school – I learnt at that time the incredible widness and brightness of the universe by starring in the sky at night whith a little telescope and some theoretical books …it was an anwaking of myself, the feeling of being bound in this universe, being a part of it. Ok,…. its phantastic to see thies photographs in this clearness and brightness. Thanks

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