The Hubble Telescope recently recorded a stunning new image showing dynamic processes taking place in the heart of the Crab Nebula. This new photograph is not only beautiful, but also reveals some of the intricate processes taking place within the structure.
The Crab Nebula displays a vast quantity of gas lighted by the remains of a dead star within its core. The gas that makes up the vast majority of the body is the remnant of a supernova explosion, leaving behind a dense stellar corpse known as a neutron star. This object contains roughly as much mass as the sun, but compacted into a sphere just a few miles in diameter. These objects are so dense that a single thimbleful of their material would weigh more than Mount Everest. This central body, rotating 30 times a second, emits enough electromagnetic radiation to light the nebula, which is a favorite target for amateur astronomers here on Earth.
"The region around a neutron star is a showcase for extreme physical processes and considerable violence. The rapid motion of the material nearest to the star is revealed by the subtle rainbow of colors in this time-lapse image, the rainbow effect being due to the movement of material over the time between one image and another," the European Space Agency (ESA) reported in a press release announcing the new image.
Ionized gas within the nebula is seen in red in the new composite photograph from the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Electrons spiraling around the magnetic field surrounding stellar remnants emit radiation seen in blue in the newly-released photograph. Most previous images released show larger regions of the nebula, while this new picture focuses on the core.
Seen in the constellation of Taurus, the nebula lies 6,500 light years away from the Earth. The explosion that formed the nebula was seen from Earth in the year CE 1054, making the event one of the first supernovae ever recorded in history. At the time, as was seen by astronomers nearly 1,000 years ago, the "new star" was the second-brightest object in the night sky, behind only the moon for total luminescence. Several years passed before the star was no longer visible to skygazers, in the days before telescopes.
As the supernova that formed the Crab Nebula exploded, the eruption forced tremendous amounts of gaseous material out to space, creating the feature.
This newest image of the Crab Nebula was recorded as a series of three photographs, each highlighting a single wavelength of light.