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Crab Nebula (M1)
Christine De Zeeuw

Crab Nebula

In approximately 1054, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, and Native American astronomers looked up in the sky and saw a "guest star" among the familiar stars of the Taurus constellation. These stargazers made note of the new star, not realizing they had in fact witnessed the death of a star. In a large star, hydrogen found in the core of the star undergoes the process of fusion to become helium; the star remains stable if the thermal radiation and gas pressure of the core counteract the force of gravity pushing inward on the core. The temperature of the core continues to increase as the fusion process continues to form carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and iron. Once the core is completely made of iron, the repulsive forces of the nuclei become strong enough to overcome the inward force of gravity, causing the core to explode outward and ejects the material surrounding the star into space. This explosion is called a supernova, and the image above of the Crab Nebula is the remnant of a supernova event. The Crab Nebula marks the first astronomical object to be linked to a historical supernova event, and astronomers in 1054 could see the nebula in the sky with the naked eye for almost 2 years. To this day the supernova continues to expand at a rate of 3 million miles per hour.

The color in the image shown above provides information about the structure of the supernova remnant. The red streaks of material running through the nebula is composed of the hydrogen gas that was ejected in the supernova explosion. The white region found in the middle of the nebula was formed as a result of the supernova explosion, causing massive numbers of electrons to become trapped in the powerful magnetic field lines generated by a pulsar found at the center of the nebula. A pulsar is a rapidly spinning neutron star that emits pulses of radio waves, and the Crab Nebula's pulsar can be seen in the image above directly to the lower left of the central bright light cluster of the nebula.

References:

Redd, Nola Taylor. "The Crab Nebula (M1): Facts, Discovery & Images". Space.com. 8 Aug. 2012. <http://www.space.com/16989-crab-nebula-m1.html>

Frommert, Hartmut and Kronberg, Christine. "Messier 1". Messier.seds.org 22 Aug. 2007 <http://messier.seds.org/m/m001.html>

Frommert, Hartmut and Kronberg, Christine. "Supernova Remnants (SNR's)". Messier.seds.org 04 Mar. 2015 <http://messier.seds.org/snr.html>

"Crab Nebula exploded in 1054". astronomy.com 08 Jun. 2007 <http://www.astronomy.com/news/2007/06/crab-nebula-exploded-in-1054>

"Crab Nebula". BBC. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/space/universe/key_places/crab_nebula>

"The Life Cycles of Stars: How Supernova Are Formed". NASA: Imagine the Universe. <http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/educators/lessons/xray_spectra/background-lifecycles.html>

"Giant Mosaic of the Crab Nebula". NASA. 23 Mar. 2008 <https://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_460.html>

Wikipedia, "Supernova Remnant"

Wikipedia, "Crab Nebula"

Right Ascension (J2000) 05:34:32
Declination (J2000) +22:00:52
Filters used B (Blue), R (Red), V (Green)
Exposure x number of images for each filter B (90s x 8), V (90s x 7), and R (90s x 15)
Image dimension 1092x736 pixels; 23.842x16.069 arcminutes
Date/time observed March 16, 2016 8:21 pm UT
Distance 2000 +/- 500 pc (Wikipedia, Crab Nebula)
Scale 0.582 pc/arcminute

 

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