Hubble glimpses beating core of the Crab Nebula

11 Jul 2016

Hubble’s view of the Crab Nebula, via NASA/ESA/J. Hester/M. Weisskopf

Hubble’s latest production is that of the Crab Nebula, revealing the pulses of radiation emerging from deep inside its core.

NASA’s Hubble Telescope has started its latest tenure – with a further five years added to its mission timeline – in fine form, with the core of the Crab Nebula following hot in the footsteps of Jupiter’s auroras and Kiso’s pancake fireworks.

Crab Nebula

The Crab Nebula is in the Taurus constellation, around 6,500 light-years away from Earth. It’s bright enough to be viewed in amateur telescopes and, having originally been recorded in 1054 by Chinese astronomers, it has fascinated scientists ever since.

Here Hubble reveals ‘the beating heart’ of the exploding star, which sends out clock-like pulses of radiation and tsunamis of charged particles embedded in magnetic fields.

Crab Nebula

At the epicentre of the Crab Nebula lies its neutron star, which, though equal in mass to our sun, is squashed into an ‘incredibly dense sphere’ just a few miles across, according to NASA.

Spinning 30 times a second, the neutron star – the right of the two bright stars in the centre of the image – shoots out detectable beams of energy that make it look like it’s pulsating.

The red in the image is glowing gas, with the blue glow that of radiation given off by electrons spiralling at nearly the speed of light in the powerful magnetic field around the crushed stellar core.

“The neutron star is a showcase for extreme physical processes and unimaginable cosmic violence,” said NASA.

“Bright wisps are moving outward from the neutron star at half the speed of light to form an expanding ring. It is thought that these wisps originate from a shockwave that turns the high-speed wind from the neutron star into extremely energetic particles.”

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic