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Crab Nebula

OLogy Series
place
card
077

Crab Nebula

OLogy Series
place

About 1,000 years ago, a massive star exploded at the end of its life cycle. What remains is the Crab Nebula, a glowing cloud of gas and dust. At the center of the Crab Nebula is a pulsar, the small, spinning core of the massive dead star. The pulsar emits all kinds of light, making the Crab Nebula easy to detect with a telescope.

Witnesses to a Violent Death
In the year 1054, Chinese astronomers reported that a "guest star" had suddenly appeared in the sky. They described it as six times brighter than Venus and as brilliant as the full Moon. This was a supernova -- the explosion of a star that may have been ten times bigger than our Sun -- and it gave birth to the Crab Nebula. For almost a month, people could see it blazing in the sky at high noon. No European records of the event exist, but the Anasazi Indians of Arizona's Chaco Canyon depicted it. Two drawings, both showing a crescent moon with a large star in the correct position for July 5, 1054, have been found in Anasazi caves. Since then, we have been able to see three dramatic supernova explosions from Earth with the naked eye: in 1572, in 1604, and in 1987.

What does the pulsar at the center of the Crab Nebula do?

acts like a powerful vacuum

constantly snaps its claws

rotates very rapidly

Are you right?

Correct!

The Crab pulsar is a kind of gigantic cosmic "power station." It spins 30 times per second and generates as much electricity as 30 million lightning bolts!

The pulsar in the center of the Crab Nebula is 12,000 miles across.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fiction

The core of this former star has been pushed together, and is only 12 miles across. It generates as much power as 100,000 Suns.

Distance from Earth: 6,500 light-years
Location: by constellation Taurus, in the Milky Way
Origin: star used up all its fuel a thousand years ago and exploded into glowing materials seen today
Significance: explosions like the one that formed the Crab Nebula produce the materials needed for life to exist in the Universe and on Earth

Image credits: In the Heart of the Crab, courtesy of William P. Blair (JHU) et al. Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), and NASA.