Download a high resolution desktop wallpaper photo of “The Crab Nebula” as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. The Crab Nebula is a supernova remnant, all that remains from the violent death of a star that may have been as much as 10 times more massive than our Sun.
In July/August of 1054, Chinese astronomers saw and recorded a powerful celestial explosion which brightened the summer sky. Appearing in the sky above the southern horn of the constellation Taurus was a star the Chinese described as six times brighter than Venus and about as brilliant as the full Moon.
The remains of this star were later christened the Crab Nebula, a cloudy, glowing mass of gas and dust about 7,000 light-years away from Earth.
The Crab Nebula is widely studied because it offers a unique opportunity to study high energy astrophysical phenomena. The physical processes that are at work in the centers of distant active galaxies and quasars are thought to be much like the processes at work in the center of the Crab, only on a vastly larger scale.
The difference is that while astronomers may never truly ‘see’ into the very heart of an active galaxy, the Crab allows the properties and behavior of high energy winds and jets to be studied up close and personal
The glowing, eerie shifting patterns of light in the center of the Crab are created by electrons and positrons (anti-matter electrons) as they spiral around magnetic field lines and radiate away energy. This lights up the interior volume of the nebula, which is more than 10 light-years across.
The powerhouse at the center of the nebula responsible for this is a rapidly spinning neutron star – the compact core of the exploded star. Only about six miles (10 kilometers) across, the neutron star would fit inside a small town, yet its small size belies its significance and the punch that it packs.
In fact the Neutron star generates enough energy to make the entire nebula radiate over almost the whole electromagnetic spectrum and is so powerful that the nebula shines brighter than 75,000 suns.