But now we have Hubble -- a telescope that has been orbiting Earth for over quarter of a century, which has been checking in on the Crab Nebula regularly and, as this beautiful image shows, the heart of the nebula is very much in motion.
Three Hubble observations of the Crab Nebula have been combined as one, showing the throbbing heart of the gas surrounding the central neutron star that was formed during the explosive compression of the original supernova. This compressed husk of degenerate stellar matter has the mass equivalent of our sun, but all crammed into a sphere measuring a few dozen miles across. This exotic object is the epitome of extreme; it's spinning at 30 times a second and is so dense that one teaspoon of its material would weigh over a billion tons.
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Its extreme nature impacts the central volume of the Crab, the motion of which has been captured by Hubble as ripples, almost like the aftermath of a pebble being dropped in a pond. The different colors of these concentric rings represent the different colored Hubble snapshots taken nearly 10 years apart and each record a violent environment inside the nebula.
In addition to speeding clouds of gas and dust, the Crab Nebula is a hive of intense magnetic activity, energizing charged particles, causing them to spin and generate light. Hubble can see this also, detecting the bright blue light being generated by ion-magnetic field interactions near the neutron star.
This latest Crab Nebula view is as we've never seen it before, proving that supernova remnants are incredibly intricate and dynamic celestial objects that need to be studied for decades before we truly reveal their beating hearts.
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