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June 1, 2000 01:00 AM (EDT)

News Release Number: STScI-2000-15

Peering into the Heart of the Crab Nebula

A Hubble Heritage Release

June 1, 2000: In the year 1054 A.D., Chinese astronomers were startled by the appearance of a new star, so bright that it was visible in broad daylight for several weeks. Today, the Crab Nebula is visible at the site of that bright star. Located about 6,500 light-years from Earth, the Crab Nebula is the remnant of a star that began its life with about 10 times the mass of our Sun. Its life ended on July 4, 1054 when it exploded as a supernova. In this image, the Hubble telescope has zoomed in on the center of the Crab to reveal its structure with unprecedented detail.

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Q & A: Understanding the Discovery

  1. 1. What does the picture reveal to astronomers?

  2. Resembling an abstract painting by Jackson Pollock, the image shows ragged shreds of gas that are expanding away from the explosion site at over 3 million mph. The core of the star has survived the explosion as a "pulsar," visible in the Hubble image as the lower of the two moderately bright stars to the upper left of center. The pulsar is a neutron star that spins on its axis 30 times a second. It heats its surroundings, creating the ghostly diffuse bluish-green glowing gas cloud in its vicinity, including a blue arc just to its right. The colorful network of filaments is the material from the outer layers of the star that was expelled during the explosion.

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Credit: NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Acknowledgment: W. P. Blair (JHU)