Using images taken by five separate observatories covering nearly the entirety of the electromagnetic spectrum, astronomers have created a detailed composite image of the Crab Nebula.
Located 6,500 light years from Earth, the Crab Nebula is the remnant of a bright supernova seen by Chinese astronomers in 1054.
An extremely dense pulsar or neutron star at the nebula’s center rotates every 33 milliseconds, emitting beams of both visible light and radio waves.
The interaction between the pulsar, fast-moving particles it is emitting, and particles thrown off the precursor star before and during the supernova gives the nebula its unique shape.
The Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) telescope observed the Crab Nebula in radio waves, with features it imaged shown in red.
Optical light images were captured by the Hubble Space Telescope and appear green.
The Chandra X-ray Observatory imaged the nebula’s powerful X-ray glow, and its data shows up in purple.
Blue features in the composite were collected by the XMM-Newton telescope, which captured the nebula in ultraviolet light.
Observations in the infrared were conducted by the Spitzer Space Telescope and are depicted in yellow.
At the center of the image is the bright, rapidly spinning pulsar.
Three of the telescopes, VLA, Hubble, and Chandra, imaged the Crab Nebula in November 2012.
A group of scientists from the Institute of Astronomy and Physics (IAFE), the National Council of Scientific Research (CONICET), and the University of Buenos Aires, all in Argentina, studied the images from the five telescopes in detail with the goal of better understanding the physical processes occurring within the nebula.
“Comparing these new images, made at different wavelengths, is providing us with a wealth of new detail about the Crab Nebula,” said Gloria Dubner of IAFE and lead author of a study on the findings published in the Astrophysical Journal.
“Though the Crab has been studied extensively for years, we still have much to learn about it.”