Tag Archives: Crab Nebula

New Hubble image of Crab Nebula

Crab Nebula

Cool image time! Scientists have released a new Hubble Space Telescope image taken of the innermost regions of the Crab Nebula, the remains of a supernova explosion that took place a thousand years ago in 1054.

On the right is a reduced resolution version of this new image. I have also cropped it to focus on the nebula’s center, where the pulsar is located. The circular concentric rings are exactly what they appear to be, ripples of energy spreading out from the pulsar. Back in 2002 Hubble took a series of images of the Crab Nebula over several days, which scientists then assembled into a movie showing these waves as they emanated out from the nebula’s center.

My only complaint with this beautiful new image is that they did not take a longer series of new exposures to create a longer movie, to better show the actual daily changes that the nebula undergoes. It seemed obvious to do then, and obvious to do now. Yet, it hasn’t happened.

The image download page for today’s release is here.

Unknown objects in space

Fermi list of object types

NASA’s Fermi Gamma-Ray Telescope today released an updated catalog of the last two years of its survey of the sky at high energy emissions. All told, there are 1873 objects in the catalog, more than half of which are supermassive black holes at the center of distant galaxies. You can see this all-sky map below the fold.

Many of the objects are quite familiar, such as the Crab Nebula, the remnant of a supernova that exploded a little less than a thousand years ago.

For decades, most astronomers regarded the Crab Nebula as the steadiest beacon at X-ray energies. But data from several orbiting instruments — including Fermi’s Gamma-ray Burst Monitor — now show unexpected variations. Astronomers have shown that since 2008, the nebula has faded by 7 percent at high energies, a reduction likely tied to the environment around its central neutron star.

Since 2007, Fermi and the Italian Space Agency’s AGILE satellite have detected several short-lived gamma-ray flares at energies hundreds of times higher than the nebula’s observed X-ray variations. In April, the satellites detected two of the most powerful yet recorded. To account for these “superflares,” scientists say that electrons near the pulsar must be accelerated to energies a thousand trillion times greater than that of visible light — and far beyond what can be achieved by the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland, now the most powerful particle accelerator on Earth.

What I, and many astronomers, find even most interesting about this catalog, however, is the large number of completely mysterious objects scattered across the sky, objects that emit powerful gamma rays but are not visible in any other wavelengths. All told, these unidentified objects comprise almost one third of the entire catalog.
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The Crab Nebula erupts with flares six days

In mid-April the Crab Nebula erupted for six days, repeatedly emitting the most powerful flares ever recorded from the supernova remnant.

Scientists think the flares occur as the intense magnetic field near the pulsar undergoes sudden restructuring. Such changes can accelerate particles like electrons to velocities near the speed of light. As these high-speed electrons interact with the magnetic field, they emit gamma rays.

To account for the observed emission, scientists say the electrons must have energies 100 times greater than can be achieved in any particle accelerator on Earth. This makes them the highest-energy electrons known to be associated with any galactic source. Based on the rise and fall of gamma rays during the April outbursts, scientists estimate that the size of the emitting region must be comparable in size to the solar system.