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Crab Nebula: The Crab Nebula: A Cosmic Icon

  • The explosion that produced the Crab Nebula was observed on Earth in 1054 A.D.

  • The aftermath of the star's death has produced a spectacular structure that scientists are trying to understand.

  • Data from different telescopes are necessary to probe the true nature of this complex object.

A star's spectacular death in the constellation Taurus was observed on Earth as the supernova of 1054 A.D. Now, almost a thousand years later, a super dense object -- called a neutron star -- left behind by the explosion is seen spewing out a blizzard of high-energy particles into the expanding debris field known as the Crab Nebula. X-ray data from Chandra provide significant clues to the workings of this mighty cosmic "generator," which is producing energy at the rate of 100,000 suns.

This composite image uses data from three of NASA's Great Observatories. The Chandra X-ray image is shown in blue, the Hubble Space Telescope optical image is in red and yellow, and the Spitzer Space Telescope's infrared image is in purple. The X-ray image is smaller than the others because extremely energetic electrons emitting X-rays radiate away their energy more quickly than the lower-energy electrons emitting optical and infrared light. Along with many other telescopes, Chandra has repeatedly observed the Crab Nebula over the course of the mission's lifetime. The Crab Nebula is one of the most studied objects in the sky, truly making it a cosmic icon.

Fast Facts for Crab Nebula:
Credit  X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/F.Seward; Optical: NASA/ESA/ASU/J.Hester & A.Loll; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. Minn./R.Gehrz
Release Date  November 23, 2009
Scale  Image is 5 arcmin across
Category  Supernovas & Supernova Remnants, Neutron Stars/X-ray Binaries
Coordinates (J2000)  RA 05h 34m 32s | Dec +22° 0.0' 52.00"
Constellation  Taurus
Observation Date  03/14/2001 and 01/27/2004
Observation Time  11 hours 30 minutes
Obs. ID  1997, 4607
Instrument  ACIS
Also Known As NGC 1952
References F.Seward et al 2006, ApJ, 652, 1277
Color Code  X-ray: Blue; Optical: Red-Yellow; Infrared: Purple
Distance Estimate  About 6,500 light years
distance arrow
Visitor Comments (18)

Could a strong source of light create gravity in the shock wave?

Posted by Alfonso J. on Wednesday, 07.27.11 @ 13:57pm

In response to Sheldon's comment, I think that the border between black hole and neutron star is fairly narrow and that any intense gravitational field could cause an accreation disk similar to that of a black holes. When a white dwarf for example is in a tight orbit around a gas giant, it can pull off gas forming a disk which eventually explodes creating a nova.

Posted by Chris on Tuesday, 10.19.10 @ 01:48am

Beauty is not the word.

Posted by Vinay on Tuesday, 09.28.10 @ 12:29pm

If it's that old why does it keep on generating energy -is it infinitesimal?

Posted by donna on Saturday, 04.3.10 @ 18:19pm

Wow beautiful i would love to see it in person

Posted by kayla on Monday, 03.22.10 @ 20:39pm

Very good, thanks.

Posted by mohammad on Tuesday, 01.5.10 @ 11:15am

I would have to agree with Sheldon on this. This picture more illustrates a black hole. True the energy released from the center could be the still collapsing star. There are many forms a star may have. Maybe a quasar is just a step in the formation of a black hole and maybe sometimes it stabilizes and remains a quasar. People claim to know, but nobody knows for sure. But at this rate someday you'll have one or the other.

Posted by The Pitts on Saturday, 12.19.09 @ 14:47pm


Posted by benoy on Wednesday, 12.9.09 @ 03:13am

It is truly breath-taking. It looks awesome.

Posted by Jared Trent on Thursday, 12.3.09 @ 10:10am

The Crab Nebula has been observed for almost a century now. I wonder, if there are hundreds of observations over the years that could be put into a short video, I would love to see how much it has changed in the last 100 years since it is not even a 1000 years old. Given its close proximity young age and size there should be far more research being done on it. What does spectral analysis show of its elemental structure? What elements are where? How fast is it expanding? 12x8 light years in size in less than 1000 years and what does that say about? How fast is its rate of expansion slowing?

Posted by Gerry on Saturday, 11.28.09 @ 09:59am

Knowledge will set us free. Being able to understand how the energy is produced is a stepping stone on how to make our world a better place without using carbon as fuel. If we can use the energy, then we are truly free to explore the limits of time and space.

Posted by C. Humble on Friday, 11.27.09 @ 10:06am

Truly one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

Posted by Ivy Burke on Thursday, 11.26.09 @ 06:51am

This is a very beautiful picture of the Crab.
The pulsar in its center is very compact, rotating at nearly 30 revolutions per second.
A very interesting stellar object to read about and study.

Posted by Marvin L. S. on Tuesday, 11.24.09 @ 16:21pm

Photo appears to reveal a pinpoint surrounded by a circle disk, with jets emerging from either poles. Isn't this more representative of a black hole than a neutron star?
On the other hand, if a black hole, one would expect to see a disk feeding the lurking monster, Can it be that the star is still shrinking, even after a thousand years on its way to becoming a black hole?

Posted by Sheldon Feuerstein on Tuesday, 11.24.09 @ 15:26pm

I wonder how long the Nebular can continue to generate energy at that level?

Posted by Mark Ballington on Tuesday, 11.24.09 @ 10:31am

Wow. Not a word most would use, but this is really wonderful to see and learn about.
It never ceases to amaze me how much variety is in the stars and planets. Before, I would look and say stars at night wonderful, now, it is Wow.

Posted by julie soufan on Tuesday, 11.24.09 @ 04:31am


Posted by denise on Tuesday, 11.24.09 @ 00:08am

If the Crab Nebula is about 6000 light years from Earth and his explosion was observed on Earth a thousand years before now, those means that it happened 7000 years ago?
And other question.
If we suppose that explosion produced some type of gravitational effect. What effect arrived first to Earth? the light effector or gravitational?

Posted by Manuel Rodriguez M on Monday, 11.23.09 @ 23:11pm

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