In 1054, observers around the world reported the appearance of a “new star” in the direction of the constellation Taurus. The remnant of that supernova is called the Crab Nebula, and it is powered by a quickly spinning, highly magnetized neutron star called a pulsar. The pulsar was formed when the massive star ran out of its nuclear fuel and collapsed. The combination of rapid rotation and a strong magnetic field in the Crab generates an intense electromagnetic field that creates jets of matter and anti-matter moving away from both the north and south poles of the pulsar and an intense wind flowing out in the equatorial direction.
This composite image of the nebula was created with data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory (blue and white), the Hubble Space Telescope (purple), and the Spitzer Space Telescope (pink).
Image Credit: NASA
The supernova explosion that formed the Crab Nebula was first seen on Earth in the year 1054. In 2000, astronomers released this image of the still-evolving center of the explosion. The composite photograph was taken in colors emitted by specific elements including hydrogen (orange), nitrogen (red), sulfur (pink), and oxygen (green). The result looks a lot like a Jackson Pollock painting. The complex array of gas filaments are rushing out from the explosion at over 5,000,000 km/h. Even at that tremendous speed, it takes over 600 years to cross the 3 light year wide frame of this picture.
The rapidly spinning neutron star remnant of supernova is visible as the lower of the two bright stars near the center of the image. The Crab Nebula (aka M1) is about 6,500 light-years away in the direction the constellation of Taurus.
Image Credit: NASA
This animation is an artist’s rendering of what the stellar explosion that resulted in the Crab Nebula might have looked like.
Video Credit: ESA
Here’s NASA’s description of this video—
This video starts with a composite image of the Crab Nebula, a supernova remnant that was assembled by combining data from five telescopes spanning nearly the entire breadth of the electromagnetic spectrum: the Very Large Array, the Spitzer Space Telescope, the Hubble Space Telescope, the XMM-Newton Observatory, and the Chandra X-ray Observatory.
The video dissolves to the red-colored radio-light view that shows how a neutron star’s fierce “wind” of charged particles from the central neutron star energized the nebula, causing it to emit the radio waves. The yellow-colored infrared image includes the glow of dust particles absorbing ultraviolet and visible light. The green-colored Hubble visible-light image offers a very sharp view of hot filamentary structures that permeate this nebula. The blue-colored ultraviolet image and the purple-colored X-ray image shows the effect of an energetic cloud of electrons driven by a rapidly rotating neutron star at the center of the nebula.
Video Credit: NASA, ESA, J. DePasquale (STScI)
This series of images of the Crab Nebula taken by the Hubble Space Telescope reveal wave-like structures like ripples in a pond expanding outward from the “heart” of an exploded star. The beating heart of the nebula is the crushed core of the exploded star, a supernova. The remnant neutron star has about the same mass as the sun but is squeezed into an ultra-dense sphere that is only a few miles across. It’s a tremendous dynamo, spinning 30 times a second. The rapidly spinning neutron star is visible in the image as the bright object just below the center of the image. The bright object to the left of the neutron star is a foreground or background star.
Image Credits: NASA and ESA
Acknowledgment: J. Hester (Arizona State University)
This Hubble image peers deep into the core of the Crab Nebula, revealing its beating heart. At its center are the remnants of a supernova which sends out clock-like pulses of radiation and waves of charged particles. The neutron star at the very center of the Crab Nebula has about the same mass as the Sun, but it’s compressed into an incredibly dense sphere that is only a few miles across. Spinning 30 times a second, the neutron star ticks along, shooting out detectable beams of energy.
Image Credit: NASA / ESA