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Image Tour: The Crab Nebula

The supernova that gave birth to the Crab Nebula created filaments of oxygen, sulfur, and hydrogen. At the nebula's core is a neutron star called a pulsar.


Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Office of Public Outreach in collaboration with NASA’s Universe of Learning partners: Caltech/IPAC, Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Sonoma State University

  • Images of the Crab Nebula: STScI


Text, Image Tour, The Crab Nebula.
Fast Facts. Location, Constellation Taurus, The Bull. Distance From Earth, 6,500 light-years. Size, 10 light-years across. Telescope, Hubble Space Telescope.
In 1054, people in Japan, China, South Korea, and America noted the sudden appearance of a strange star that stayed visible day and night before eventually fading away.
They had witnessed a supernova, the violent explosion of a supergiant star.
The Crab Nebula is all that remains of the former star.
A bar appears at the bottom. Text, Tour Stops. Red Filaments, Blue and Green Filaments, Orange Filaments, Electron Glow, Neutron Star. A box highlights the first stop, Red Filaments.
Text, The stellar explosion that gave rise to the nebula flung gas into space. The gas developed into a web of filaments. Red indicates energized oxygen.
A photo of the red filaments. Caption, energized oxygen.
The box on the tour bar highlights the next stop, Blue and Green Filaments.
Text, The gas is moving outward at about 1,100 miles per second. Blue filaments show oxygen, while green ones show energized sulfur.
The box on the tour bar highlights the next stop, Orange Filaments.
Text, Orange filaments are made up mainly of hydrogen gas that was ejected from the outer layers of the exploding star that formed the nebula.
The box on the tour bar highlights the next stop, Electron Glow.
Text, Electrons emit a ghostly blue glow as they zip at nearly the speed of light around the magnetic field generated by the central star.
The box on the tour bar highlights the next stop, Neutron Star.
Text, When a supergiant star explodes, its core collapses into an intensely dense, tiny, spinning object called a neutron star.
A star is circled in white and labeled, Neutron star.
Text, The neutron star in the center of the Crab Nebula, too small to see, has 1.4 times the mass of the Sun crushed into an object 10 miles wide.
A teaspoon of its matter would weigh half a billion tons.
This neutron star is called a pulsar. As the star spins, from our perspective, it gives off a steady stream of radiation that seems to pulse as it sweeps by, like the whirling beam of a lighthouse.
A model of the pulsar spins and emits a flashing light as it rotates.
Text, The Crab pulsar emits radio pulses every 33 milliseconds.
The text fades, then the tour stops reappear in a bar across the bottom, red filaments, blue and green filaments, orange filaments, electron glow, neutron star.