Crab Nebula

Nhsc_nhsc2012-014a_1024

nhsc_nhsc2012-014a December 13th, 2012

Credit: ESA/Herschel/SPIRE/PACS/MESS

Herschel has produced an intricate view of the remains of a star that died in a stellar explosion a millennium ago. It has provided further proof that the interstellar dust which lies throughout our Galaxy is created when massive stars reach the end of their lives.

The Crab Nebula lies about six and a half thousand light years away from Earth and is the remnant of a dramatic explosion, called a supernova, originally seen by Chinese Astronomers in 1054 AD. Starting out at 12-15 times more massive than the Sun, all that was left after the dramatic death of the star is a tiny, rapidly rotating neutron star and a complex network of ejected stellar material.

The Crab Nebula is well known for its intricate nature, with beautiful filamentary structures seen at visible wavelengths. Now, for the first time, thanks to Herschels exquisite resolution, we can see these filaments of dust in the far-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum. After ruling out other sources, astronomers using Herschel showed that these filaments are made of cosmic dust, lying in exactly the same place that we see the densest clumps of supernova ejecta. This provides definitive evidence that the Crab Nebula is an efficient dust factory, containing enough dust to make around 30,000-40,000 planet Earths. The dust is made of a combination of carbon and silicate materials, which are crucial for the formation of planetary systems like our own Solar System.

Previous infrared images of the Crab Nebula, using the Spitzer Space Telescope, used much shorter wavelengths and so only showed the warmer dust. Spitzer found only a tiny amount of dust, simply because it missed the massive reservoir of colder dust now known to exist. Herschel, observing at longer wavelengths, is able to detect both warm and cool dust, some as cold as -260 Celsius, allowing astronomers to measure the total mass of dust for the first time.

Large amounts of dust have been seen in supernova remnants before, but the Crab Nebula is particularly exciting as it provides the the cleanest view of what is going on. Unlike many other remnants there is almost no dusty Galactic material in front of or behind the Crab Nebula, so the image is uncontaminated by material in between it and the Earth. This also allows astronomers to rule out the possibility that the dust was swept up as the shockwave expanded throughout the surrounding region.

In most supernova remnants, much of the dust is destroyed as it ploughs into the surrounding interstellar gas and dust, crushed by violent shockwaves. A final treat is that the Crab Nebula is a much kinder environment for dust grains, so the dust does not seem to be destroyed. This may be the first observed case of dust being freshly-cooked in a supernova and surviving its outward journey carried along by the shock wave. We now have definitive evidence that supernovae created the raw materials for the first solid particles, the building blocks of rocky planets and life itself, in a blink of an eye.

Image Source: http://www.herschel.caltech.edu/index.php?SiteSection=ImageGallery&ViewImage=nhsc2012-014a

Curator: NASA Herschel Science Center, Pasadena, CA, USA

Image Use Policy: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/imagepolicy/

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Image Details

Image Type
Observation
Object Name
Crab Nebula Messier 1 M1 NGC 1952
Subject - Milky Way
Nebula » Type » Supernova Remnant

Distance

Universescale1
6,300 light years
Nhsc_nhsc2012-014a_128
 

Position Details

Orientation
North is up

Color Mapping

  Telescope Spectral Band Wavelength
Arrow_left_blue Herschel (PACS) Infrared 70.0 µm
Arrow_left_green Herschel (PACS) Infrared 160.0 µm
Arrow_left_red Herschel (SPIRE) Infrared 250.0 µm
Spectrum_ir1
Arrow_top_blue
Arrow_top_green
Arrow_top_red
Nhsc_nhsc2012-014a_1280
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ID
nhsc2012-014a
Subject Category
B.4.1.4  
Subject Name
Crab Nebula, Messier 1, M1, NGC 1952
Credits
ESA/Herschel/SPIRE/PACS/MESS
Type
Observation
Image Quality
Good
Distance Notes
Facility
Herschel, Herschel, Herschel
Instrument
PACS, PACS, SPIRE
Color Assignment
Blue, Green, Red
Band
Infrared, Infrared, Infrared
Bandpass
Central Wavelength
70000, 160000, 250000
Start Time
Integration Time
Dataset ID
Notes
Coordinate Frame
Equinox
2000
Reference Value
Reference Dimension
Reference Pixel
Scale
Rotation
0
Coordinate System Projection:
TAN
Quality
FITS Header
Notes
Creator (Curator)
NASA Herschel Science Center
URL
http://www.herschel.caltech.edu/
Name
Email
Telephone
Address
1200 E. California Blvd.
City
Pasadena
State/Province
CA
Postal Code
91125
Country
USA
Rights
http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/imagepolicy/
Publisher
NASA Herschel Science Center
Publisher ID
nhsc
Resource ID
Resource URL
/image/nhsc/nhsc2012-014a
Related Resources
Metadata Date
2018-01-19T22:26:02Z
Metadata Version
1.1
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Detailed color mapping information coming soon...

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Universescalefull
6,300 light years