A Giant Hubble Mosaic of the Crab Nebula

December 1, 2005
Release No.: STScI-2005-37

A Giant Hubble Mosaic of the Crab Nebula:

The Crab Nebula (M1, NGC 1952) is a six-light-year-wide expanding remnant of a star's supernova explosion. Japanese and Chinese astronomers recorded this violent event nearly 1,000 years ago in 1054, as did, almost certainly, Native Americans. This composite image was assembled from 24 individual exposures taken with the NASA Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 in October 1999, January 2000, and December 2000. It is one of the largest images taken by Hubble and is the highest resolution image ever made of the entire Crab Nebula.

Position: R.A. 5h 34m 32s, Dec. 22° 00' 52" N, in Taurus
Distance: 6,500 light-years (2.0 kpc)

The orange filaments are the tattered remains of the star and consist mostly of hydrogen. The rapidly spinning neutron star embedded in the center of the nebula is the dynamo powering the nebula's eerie interior bluish glow. The blue light comes from electrons whirling at nearly the speed of light around magnetic field lines from the star. The neutron star, like a lighthouse, ejects twin beams of radiation that appear to pulse 30 times a second due to the neutron star's rotation. A neutron star is the crushed ultra-dense core of the exploded star.

The colors in the image indicate the different elements that were expelled during the explosion. Blue in the filaments in the outer part of the nebula represents neutral oxygen, green is singly-ionized sulfur, and red indicates doubly-ionized oxygen.

The Crab Nebula derived its name from its appearance in a drawing made by Irish astronomer Lord Rosse in 1844, using a 36-inch telescope. When viewed by Hubble, as well as by large ground-based telescopes such as the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope, the Crab Nebula takes on a more detailed appearance that yields clues into the spectacular demise of a star, 6,500 light-years away.

For more information, contact:
Jeff Hester, Arizona State University, Tempe, Ariz.,
(phone) 480-965-0741, (e-mail) jhester@asu.edu

Allison Loll, Arizona State University, Tempe, Ariz.,
(phone) 480-965-7652, (e-mail) allison.loll@asu.edu

Jesper Sollerman, Dark Cosmology Center, Copenhagen, Denmark,
(phone) 011-46-8-5537-8554, (e-mail) jesper@astro.su.se

Lars Lindberg Christensen, Hubble European Space Agency Information Center, Garching, Germany,
(phone) 011-49-89-3200-6306, (cell phone) 011-49-173-3872-621, (e-mail) lars@eso.org

Ray Villard, Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md.,
(phone) 410-338-45144, (e-mail) villard@stsci.edu

Credit: NASA, ESA, J. Hester and A. Loll (Arizona State University)

Other images, captions and press-release texts are available in the World-Wide Web, at A Giant Hubble Mosaic of the Crab Nebula (HubbleSite - NewsCenter).

Updated: December 15 '05

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