- It is the remnant of a stellar explosion that lit up the sky nearly 1,000 years ago
- The Crab Nebula was visible across the world during the day for 23 days in 1054
It is one of the most famous nebulae known to astronomers.
But the Crab Nebula can now be seen like never before thanks to NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.
The remarkable object is the remnant of a stellar explosion that lit up the sky nearly 1,000 years ago — bright enough to be seen on Earth from 6,500 light-years away.
It was visible across the world for 23 days back in 1054.
NASA hopes this latest view of the glowing cosmic cloud – made possible with the help of its $10 billion (£7.4 billion) observatory – will help astronomers unravel its puzzling history.
Wow: The Crab Nebula can now be seen like never before thanks to NASA ‘s James Webb Space Telescope. The remarkable object (pictured) is the remnant of a stellar explosion that lit up the sky nearly 1,000 years ago — bright enough to be seen on Earth from 6,500 light-years away
THE CRAB NEBULA: A ‘COSMIC GENERATOR’
In the year 1054, a massive supernova erupted in the sky, creating a light show that was seen from Earth 6,500 years away.
Historical records reveal the phenomenon was spotted by Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Arab astronomers.
And, it could be seen even during the day for almost three weeks afterward.
A study analyzing the Crab Nebula – the remnant of the stellar explosion – found that the faint jet of debris lines up with these ancient records, confirming its 11th century origin.
According to NASA, the object is now a powerful cosmic ‘generator,’ producing energy at the rate of 100,000 suns.
‘Webb’s sensitivity and spatial resolution allow us to accurately determine the composition of the ejected material, particularly the content of iron and nickel, which may reveal what type of explosion produced the Crab Nebula,’ said Tea Temim, of Princeton University.
He is leading a team searching for answers about the Crab Nebula’s origins.
NASA said that to find the Crab Nebula’s ‘pulsar heart’ in the image, viewers should ‘trace the wisps that follow a circular ripple-like pattern in the middle to the bright white dot in the centre’.
The space agency added: ‘Farther out from the core, follow the thin white ribbons of the radiation.
‘The curvy wisps are closely grouped together, outlining the structure of the pulsar’s magnetic field, which sculpts and shapes the nebula.’
Webb is not the first telescope to snap a picture of the Crab Nebula — NASA’s iconic Hubble Space Telescope also did so back in 2005.
However, because Webb can see in infrared, it offers a never-before-seen ‘crisp’ view of the stellar explosion in magnificent detail.
‘In the central regions, emission from dust grains (yellow-white and green) is mapped out by Webb for the first time,’ NASA said.
‘Additional aspects of the inner workings of the Crab Nebula become more prominent and are seen in greater detail in the infrared light captured by Webb.
‘In particular, Webb highlights what is known as synchrotron radiation: emission produced from charged particles, like electrons, moving around magnetic field lines at relativistic speeds.
‘The radiation appears here as milky smoke-like material throughout the majority of the Crab Nebula’s interior.’
Webb is not the first telescope to snap a picture of the Crab Nebula — NASA’s iconic Hubble Space Telescope did so back in 2005 (pictured left). But because Webb can see in infrared, it offers a never-before-seen ‘crisp’ view of the stellar explosion in magnificent detail (right)
Beautiful: The Crab Nebula (pictured) is about 6,500 light years from the Earth and is 11 light years across, expanding at 930 miles per second
The name for the supernova remnant comes from astronomer William Parsons, who observed it in 1850 and produced a drawing that looked like a crab.
It was first discovered in 1731 and later study suggested its creation corresponded to a bright supernova observed by the Chinese in 1054.
Its link to the supernova explosion SN 1054 came in the early 20th century when astronomers studied observations by Chinese astronomers dating back to July 4 1054.
They reported sighting of a new star bright enough to be seen in the daytime in the same part of the sky as the Crab Nebula is found today.
It isn’t visible to the naked eye, but has a similar apparent magnitude of Saturn’s moon Titan, meaning it can be made out using binoculars if the conditions are right.
It is about 6,500 light years from the Earth and is 11 light years across, expanding at 930 miles per second.
There is a pulsar at the centre of the nebular spinning at 30.2 times per second emitting a pulse of radiation from gamma rays to radiowaves.
The James Webb Telescope: NASA’s $10 billion telescope is designed to detect light from the earliest stars and galaxies
The James Webb telescope has been described as a ‘time machine’ that could help unravel the secrets of our universe.
The telescope will be used to look back to the first galaxies born in the early universe more than 13.5 billion years ago, and observe the sources of stars, exoplanets, and even the moons and planets of our solar system.
The vast telescope, which has already cost more than $7 billion (£5 billion), is considered a successor to the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope
The James Webb Telescope and most of its instruments have an operating temperature of roughly 40 Kelvin – about minus 387 Fahrenheit (minus 233 Celsius).
It is the world’s biggest and most powerful orbital space telescope, capable of peering back 100-200 million years after the Big Bang.
The orbiting infrared observatory is designed to be about 100 times more powerful than its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope.
NASA likes to think of James Webb as a successor to Hubble rather than a replacement, as the two will work in tandem for a while.
The Hubble telescope was launched on April 24, 1990, via the space shuttle Discovery from Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.
It circles the Earth at a speed of about 17,000mph (27,300kph) in low Earth orbit at about 340 miles in altitude.