- It is the remnant of a stellar explosion that lit up the sky almost 1,000 years ago
- The Crab Nebula was visible around the world for 23 days in 1054
It is one of the most famous nebulae known to astronomers.
But thanks to NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, the Crab Nebula can now be seen like never before.
The remarkable object is the remnant of a stellar explosion that lit up the sky nearly 1,000 years ago – bright enough to be seen on Earth from a distance of 6,500 light-years.
In 1054 it was visible around the world for 23 days.
NASA hopes this latest glimpse of the glowing cosmic cloud – made possible with the help of its $10bn (£7.4bn) observatory – will help astronomers unravel its enigmatic history.
Wow: Thanks to NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, the Crab Nebula can now be seen like never before. The remarkable object (pictured) is the remnant of a stellar explosion that lit up the sky nearly 1,000 years ago – bright enough to be seen on Earth from 6,500 light-years away
THE Crab Nebula: A “COSMIC GENERATOR”
In 1054, a massive supernova erupted in the sky, producing a light spectacle that could be seen from Earth 6,500 years away.
Historical records show that the phenomenon was discovered by Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Arab astronomers.
And it could still be seen even during the day for almost three weeks.
A study that analyzed the Crab Nebula – the remnant of the stellar explosion – found that the faint jet of debris matches these ancient records, confirming its origin in the 11th century.
According to NASA, the object is now a powerful cosmic “generator,” producing energy equivalent to 100,000 suns.
“Webb’s sensitivity and spatial resolution allow us to accurately determine the composition of the ejected material, particularly the iron and nickel content, which could shed light on what type of explosion caused the Crab Nebula,” said Tea Temim of Princeton University .
He leads a team searching for answers to the origins of the Crab Nebula.
NASA said that to find the Crab Nebula’s “pulsar heart” in the image, viewers would need to “Trace the stripes, which follow a circular, wave-like pattern in the center, to the bright white dot in the center.
The space agency added: “Further from the core, you follow the thin white bands of radiation.”
“The curved stripes are grouped closely together and outline the structure of the pulsar’s magnetic field, which shapes and shapes the nebula.”
Webb is not the first telescope to take a photo of the Crab Nebula – NASA’s legendary Hubble Space Telescope also did this in 2005.
However, because Webb can see in the infrared, it offers an unprecedented “sharp” view of the stellar explosion with great detail.
“In the central regions, emission of dust grains (yellow-white and green) is mapped for the first time by Webb,” NASA said.
“Additional aspects of the Crab Nebula’s inner workings are revealed in greater clarity and detail in the infrared light captured by Webb.”
“Webb particularly highlights so-called synchrotron radiation: emission produced by charged particles such as electrons moving around magnetic field lines at relativistic speeds.”
“The radiation appears here as a milky, smoke-like material throughout most of the interior of the Crab Nebula.”
Webb isn’t the first telescope to take an image of the Crab Nebula – NASA’s iconic Hubble Space Telescope did so back in 2005 (pictured left). However, because Webb can see in the infrared, he offers an unprecedented “sharp” view of the stellar explosion with great detail (right).
Beautiful: The Crab Nebula (pictured) is about 6,500 light-years from Earth, is 11 light-years in diameter, and is expanding at a speed of 930 miles per second
The name for the supernova remnant comes from astronomer William Parsons, who observed it in 1850 and made a drawing that looked like a crab.
It was first discovered in 1731 and later studies suggested that its formation corresponded to a bright supernova observed by the Chinese in 1054.
The connection to the supernova explosion SN 1054 emerged in the early 20th century when astronomers examined observations by Chinese astronomers dating back to July 4, 1054.
They reported the sighting of a new star bright enough to be seen during the day in the same part of the sky where the Crab Nebula is today.
It is not visible to the naked eye, but has a similar apparent brightness to Saturn’s moon Titan, allowing it to be seen with binoculars in suitable conditions.
It is about 6,500 light-years from Earth, is 11 light-years in diameter, and is expanding at a speed of 930 miles per second.
At the center of the nebula is a pulsar that rotates 30.2 times per second and emits a pulse of radiation ranging from gamma rays to radio waves.
The James Webb Telescope: NASA’s $10 billion telescope is designed to detect the light of the earliest stars and galaxies
The James Webb Telescope has been described as a “time machine” that could help unlock the mysteries of our universe.
The telescope will be used to look back at the first galaxies that formed in the early universe more than 13.5 billion years ago and to observe the formation of stars, exoplanets and even the moons and planets of our solar system.
The giant telescope, which has already cost more than $7 billion (£5 billion), is seen as the successor to the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope
The James Webb Telescope and most of its instruments have an operating temperature of about 40 Kelvin – about minus 387 Fahrenheit (minus 233 degrees Celsius).
It is the largest and most powerful orbital space telescope in the world and can look back 100 to 200 million years after the Big Bang.
The orbiting infrared observatory is said to be about 100 times more powerful than its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope.
NASA views James Webb as a successor rather than a replacement for Hubble, as the two will continue to work together for a while.
The Hubble Telescope was launched on April 24, 1990 on the space shuttle Discovery from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
It orbits the Earth at a speed of about 17,000 miles per hour (27,300 km/h) in a low Earth orbit at an altitude of about 340 miles.