Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

November 22, 1995

M1: The Exploding Crab Nebula
Credit: Hale 5-Metre Telescope
Copyright: AATB, Caltech, David Malin, Jay Pasachoff

Explanation: The Crab Nebula resulted from a star that exploded - a supernova. The outer layers of the star were thrown violently into space, while the inner core collapsed to form a neutron star. This neutron star is visible to us today as a pulsar - a rotating star at the centre of the nebula that emits visible flashes of light. The Crab Pulsar flashes about 30 times every second. Although the stellar explosion that caused the Crab Nebula was seen over 900 years ago, the nebula itself still expands and shines. How the nebula obtains the energy needed to shine was a mystery eventually solved by noting that this energy could be released by the slowing of the pulsar's rotation.

Tomorrow's picture: M1: Polarization of the Crab

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
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