Saturday, July 31, 2021

The Crab nebula

In 1054 AD, during the Song dynasty, Chinese astronomers spotted a bright new star in the night sky.  This newcomer turned out to be a violent explosion inside the Milky Way, caused by the spectacular death of a star some 1,600 light-years away.  This explosion created one of the best-studied and beautiful objects in the night sky - the Crab Nebula.

  The beautiful result of this cataclysmic Type II supernova is shown here, with images from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope Advanced Research Camera.  Unlike the more commonly seen views of this remnant (heic0515), which show incredibly intricate branches and spiers across the region, this image uses only a single filter, giving rise to a smoother and much simpler view of the famous nebula.

  The unstoppable collapse of the Crab's progenitor star led to the formation of a rapidly rotating neutron star called the Crab Pulsar, which lurks in the heart of the nebula.  This object is about the same size as Mars' tiny moon Phobos, but it contains nearly 1.5 times the mass of the Sun and rotates about thirty times every second.  This causes jets of high-energy radiation to periodically sweep toward the Earth, like the rotating beams of a lighthouse, making the Crab Nebula appear to pulse at specific wavelengths.

  The Crab Nebula is also known as NGC 1952 and Messier 1. The second of these names was given by Charles Messier.  He initially mislabeled the nebula as Halley's comet, but soon realized that the object was not moving.  So he decided to call it M1 as the first object in a catalog of objects that look like comets but aren't.


  Credit: ESA / Hubble & NASA.

  Thanks: Judy Schmidt (Geckzilla)

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