The Crab Nebula is the most famous and conspicuous known supernova remnant, the expanding cloud of gas created in the explosion of a star as supernova which was observed in the year 1054 AD. This supernova was noted on July 4, 1054 A.D. by Chinese astronomers as a new or "guest star," and was about four times brighter than Venus, or about mag -6. According to the records, it was visible in daylight for 23 days, and 653 days to the naked eye in the night sky. The nebula consists of the material ejected in the supernova explosion, which has been spread over a volume approximately 10 light years in diameter, and is still expanding at the very high velocity of about 1,800 km/sec. On November 9, 1968, a pulsating radio source, the Crab Pulsar (also cataloged as NP0532, "NP" for NRAO Pulsar, or PSR 0531+21), was discovered in M1 by astronomers of the Arecibo Observatory 300-meter radio telescope in Puerto Rico. This star is the left (south-western) one of the pair visible near the center of the nebula in our photo. This pulsar was the first one which was also verified in the optical part of the spectrum, when W.J. Cocke, M.J. Disney and D.J. Taylor of Steward Observatory, Tucson, Arizona found it flashing at the same period of 33.085 milliseconds as the radio pulsar with the 90-cm (36-inch) telescope on Kitt peak; this discovery happened on January 15, 1969 at 9:30 pm local time (January 16, 1969, 3:30 UT, according to Simon Mitton). This optical pulsar is sometimes also referred to by the supernova's variable star designation, CM Tauri. It has now been established that this pulsar is a rapidly rotating neutron star: It rotates about 30 times per second! This period is very well investigated because the neutron star emits pulses in virtually every part of the electromagnetic spectrum, from a "hot spot" on its surface. The neutron star is an extremely dense object, denser than an atomic nucleus, concentrating more than one solar mass in a volume of 30 kilometers across. Its rotation is slowly decelerating by magnetic interaction with the nebula; this is now a major energy source which makes the nebula shining; as stated above, this energy source is 100,000 times more energetic than our sun.
In the visible light, the pulsar is of 16th apparent magnitude. This means that this very small star is roughly of absolute magnitude +4.5, or about the same luminosity as our sun in the visible spectrum.
Crab Pulsar 2006-01-30 and 2006-12-27
New General Catalog:
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