Observatories Combine to Crack Open the Crab Nebula

Colorful New Portrait Shows Energetic Details Embedded in Supernova Remnant

Article ID: 674460

Released: 10-May-2017 1:00 PM EDT

Source Newsroom: Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI)

  • Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Dubner (IAFE, CONICET-University of Buenos Aires) et al.; A. Loll et al.; T. Temim et al.; F. Seward et al.; VLA/NRAO/AUI/NSF; Chandra/CXC; Spitzer/JPL-Caltech; XMM-Newton/ESA; and Hubble/STScI

    In the summer of the year 1054 AD, Chinese astronomers saw a new "guest star," that appeared six times brighter than Venus. So bright in fact, it could be seen during the daytime for several months. Halfway around the world, Native Americans made pictographs of a crescent moon with the bright star nearby that some think may also have been a record of the supernova. This "guest star" was forgotten about until 700 years later with the advent of telescopes. Astronomers saw a tentacle-like nebula in the place of the vanished star and called it the Crab Nebula. Today we know it as the expanding gaseous remnant from a star that self-detonated as a supernova, briefly shining as brightly as 400 million suns. The explosion took place 6,500 light-years away. If the blast had instead happened 50 light-years away it would have irradiated Earth, wiping out most life forms. In the late 1960s astronomers discovered the crushed heart of the doomed star, an ultra-dense neutron star that is a dynamo of intense magnetic field and radiation energizing the nebula. Astronomers therefore need to study the Crab Nebula across a broad range of electromagnetic radiation, from X-rays to radio waves. This composite picture captures the complexity of this tortured-looking supernova remnant combining data from five different telescopes: the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (radio) in red; Spitzer Space Telescope (infrared) in yellow; Hubble Space Telescope (visible) in green; XMM-Newton (ultraviolet) in blue; and Chandra X-ray Observatory (X-ray) in purple.

  • Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Dubner (IAFE, CONICET-University of Buenos Aires) et al.; A. Loll et al.; T. Temim et al.; F. Seward et al.; VLA/NRAO/AUI/NSF; Chandra/CXC; Spitzer/JPL-Caltech; XMM-Newton/ESA; and Hubble/STScI

    This highly detailed image of the Crab Nebula was assembled by combining data from five telescopes spanning nearly the entire breadth of the electromagnetic spectrum: the Very Large Array (radio) in red; Spitzer Space Telescope (infrared) in yellow; Hubble Space Telescope (visible) in green; XMM-Newton (ultraviolet) in blue; and Chandra X-ray Observatory (X-ray) in purple. The Hubble visible-light image offers a very sharp view of hot filamentary structures that permeate this nebula. The infrared image includes the glow of dust particles absorbing ultraviolet and visible light, and re-radiating at lower energies (longer wavelengths) in the infrared. An energetic cloud of electrons driven by a rapidly rotating neutron star, or pulsar, at its core glows brightly in ultraviolet radiation and X-rays. The neutron star's fierce "wind" of charged particles energized the nebula, causing it to emit the radio waves. In the color scheme used for this set of images the background stars appear blue because they have the strongest signal in the ultraviolet-light exposure. The Crab Nebula, the result of a supernova explosion seen by Chinese and other astronomers in the year 1054, is 6,500 light-years from Earth.

FOR RELEASE: 1:00pm (EDT) May 10, 2017

PHOTO NO.: STScI-PRC17-21

OBSERVATORIES COMBINE TO CRACK OPEN THE CRAB NEBULA

Newswise — Astronomers have produced a highly detailed image of the Crab Nebula, by combining data from telescopes spanning nearly the entire breadth of the electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves seen by the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) to the powerful X-ray glow as seen by the orbiting Chandra X- ray Observatory. And, in between that range of wavelengths, the Hubble Space Telescope's crisp visible-light view, and the infrared perspective of the Spitzer Space Telescope.

The Crab Nebula, the result of a bright supernova explosion seen by Chinese and other astronomers in the year 1054, is 6,500 light-years from Earth. At its center is a super-dense neutron star, rotating once every 33 milliseconds, shooting out rotating lighthouse-like beams of radio waves and light -- a pulsar (the bright dot at image center). The nebula's intricate shape is caused by a complex interplay of the pulsar, a fast-moving wind of particles coming from the pulsar, and material originally ejected by the supernova explosion and by the star itself before the explosion.

This image combines data from five different telescopes: the VLA (radio) in red; Spitzer Space Telescope (infrared) in yellow; Hubble Space Telescope (visible) in green; XMM-Newton (ultraviolet) in blue; and Chandra X-ray Observatory (X- ray) in purple.

The new VLA, Hubble, and Chandra observations all were made at nearly the same time in November of 2012. A team of scientists led by Gloria Dubner of the Institute of Astronomy and Physics (IAFE), the National Council of Scientific Research (CONICET), and the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina then made a thorough analysis of the newly revealed details in a quest to gain new insights into the complex physics of the object. They are reporting their findings in the Astrophysical Journal.

"Comparing these new images, made at different wavelengths, is providing us with a wealth of new detail about the Crab Nebula. Though the Crab has been studied extensively for years, we still have much to learn about it," Dubner said.

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandra’s science and flight operations.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages the Spitzer Space Telescope for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at Caltech in Pasadena, California. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington, D.C.

Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Dubner (IAFE, CONICET-University of Buenos Aires) et al.; A. Loll et al.; T. Temim et al.; F. Seward et al., VLA/NRAO/AUI/NSF; Chandra/CXC; Spitzer/JPL-Caltech; XMM-Newton/ESA; and Hubble/STScI

For more information on the Crab Nebula and Hubble, visit:

http://hubblesite.org/news_release/news/2017-21

http://www.nasa.gov/hubble

 

Ray Villard

Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland

410-338-4514

villard@stsci.edu

 

Dave Finley

National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Socorro, New Mexico

575-835-7302

dfinley@nrao.edu

 

Megan Watzke

Chandra X-ray Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts

617-496-7998

mwatzke@cfa.harvard.edu

 

Elizabeth Landau

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California

818-354-6425

elizabeth.r.landau@jpl.nasa.gov

 

Gloria Dubner

IAFE, CONICET-University of Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina

011-54-11-5285-7802

gdubner@iafe.uba.ar

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