Friday, July 15, 2016

Crabby, Crab, Crabby, Crab, Crab.

There's a neutron star in the middle of the Crab Nebula, and that sucker is spinning 30 times every second!

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, J. Hester (ASU), and M. Weisskopf (NASA / MSFC)
The above image was released on Astronomy Picture of the Day recently. It shows the illumination of the Crab Nebula from the Crab Pulsar (the rightmost of the two bright stars in the image). A pulsar is a neutron star which is highly magnetized and spins rather quickly, emitting radiation. The Crab Nebula itself is made up of the remnants of a large star that collapsed long ago, blowing off lots of material and forming the Crab Pulsar neutron star. The spinning of the pulsar drives the illumination of the nebula. 

The image of the Crab Nebula above comes from a composite of x-ray and optical light data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope. The video below shows the two different types of image (x-ray in blue, optical in red) in seven different sets of images from November 200 to April 2001. Those images have been looped many times to create a video, where you can see the swirling stellar winds moving through the nebula from the pulsar.

The Crab Nebula is beautiful, but that beauty can find new meaning when we consider the processes that formed the nebula and are affecting it today.

Here's a wider image showing the Crab Nebula in all of its glory. Let this one sink in...

Crab Nebula (NASA)

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