Intricate Crab Nebula Poses for Hubble Close-Up

Intricate Crab Nebula Poses for Hubble Close-Up
The Hubble Space Telescope has caught the most detailed view of the Crab Nebula in one of the largest images ever assembed by the space-based observatory. (Image credit: NASA/ESA and Jeff Hester (Arizona State University).)

The HubbleSpace Telescope has caught the most detailed view of the Crab Nebula, revealingthe intricate epitaph of a long-dead star.

Astronomersin Japan and China witnessed the birth of the Crab Nebulain 1054, when a star 6,500 light-years from Earth exploded in a brilliantsupernova. [Click here to view animation of the nebula's explosive beginning.]

The nebulaspans a patch of space six light-years across and has proved an attractive targetfor professional and amateur astronomers alike. One light-year is the distancelight travels in one year, about 5.8 trillion miles(9.7 trillion kilometers).

Wispy filaments,primarily of hydrogen, weave through the Crab Nebula, at the center of whichsits a neutronstar that spins 30 times per second.

The onlyfixed remains of the supernova explosion - the rest of the original star stuffhas blown outward - the neutron star acts as a beacon, spitting twin beams ofradiation from its poles as it rotates.

The dense,city-sized object powers the Crab Nebula's bluish glow, which is generated byelectrons that follow the neutron star's magnetic field lines, astronomerssaid. The elemental composition of the nebula can be picked apart by color,with blue areas indicating neutral oxygen, green regions showing singly ionizedsulfur and red portions denoting doubly ionized oxygen, they added.

This imagesuperimposes one of the largest ever produced by Hubble - and the highest resolution viewever of the nebula - over observations from the European Southern Observatory'sVery Large Telescope in Chile. Astronomers used Hubble's Wide Field andPlanetary Camera 2 to build the image.

  • Image Gallery: Hubble Space Telescope's Greatest Hits
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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.