From Hubble: “Hubble Captures the Beating Heart of the Crab Nebula”

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NASA Hubble Telescope


July 7, 2016
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Data Description: 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).
Instrument: ACS/WFC
Filters: F550M(V) and F606W(V)+POLV60
Exposure Date(s): F550M(V): September 15, 2005, and January 10, 2013
F606W(V)+POLV60: August 8, 2003, and September 6, 2005
About the Release
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.

At the center of the Crab Nebula, located in the constellation Taurus, lies a celestial “beating heart” that is an example of extreme physics in space. The tiny object blasts out blistering pulses of radiation 30 times a second with unbelievable clock-like precision. Astronomers soon figured out that it was the crushed core of an exploded star, called a neutron star, which wildly spins like a blender on puree. The burned-out stellar core can do this without flying apart because it is 10 billion times stronger than steel. This incredible density means that the mass of 1.4 suns has been crushed into a solid ball of neutrons no bigger than the width of a large city. This Hubble image captures the region around the neutron star. It is unleashing copious amounts of energy that are pushing on the expanding cloud of debris from the supernova explosion — like an animal rattling its cage. This includes wave-like tsunamis of charged particles embedded in deadly magnetic fields.

On July 4, 1054, Chinese astronomers recorded the supernova that formed the Crab Nebula. The ultimate celestial firework, this “guest star” was visible during the daytime for 23 days, shining six times brighter than the planet Venus. The supernova was also recorded by Japanese, Arabic, and Native American stargazers. While searching for a comet that was predicted to return in 1758, French astronomer Charles Messier discovered a hazy nebula in the direction of the long-vanished supernova. He would later add it to his celestial catalog as “Messier 1.” Because M1 didn’t move across the sky like a comet, Messier simply ignored it other than just marking it as a “fake comet.” Nearly a century later the British astronomer William Parsons sketched the nebula. Its resemblance to a crustacean led to M1’s other name, the Crab Nebula. In 1928 Edwin Hubble first proposed associating the Crab Nebula to the Chinese “guest star” of 1054.

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The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), is a free-standing science center, located on the campus of The Johns Hopkins University and operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) for NASA, conducts Hubble science operations.

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