Hubble images neutron star at the heart of the Crab Nebula

View of the Crab Nebula made up of three separate Hubble images(Credit: NASA, ESA)

The Hubble Space Telescope has captured an image of the super-dense neutron star at the heart of the famous Crab Nebula. The nebula resulted from one of the earliest supernovae to be recorded by human beings, and its striking form has made it a popular target for amateur and professional astronomers alike.

Located roughly 6,500 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Taurus, the chaotic twisting clouds of dust and gas mark the site of one of the Universe's most violent and dramatic events, a supernovae. In the year 1054, light emitted during the explosion was the second brightest point in the night sky, outshone only by Earth's Moon.

As the star that formed the nebula died, it threw out vast quantities of material. In its death throws, the stellar body's core began to collapse, causing massive amounts of protons and electrons to condense and merge to form an ultra-dense neutron core, which can still be seen to this day.

It is thought that a sugar cube-sized amount of an incredibly dense zombie stars such as the neutron star at the heart of the Crab Nebula would weigh the same as Mount Everest. What's more, neutron stars spin incredibly fast. The specimen lurking in the depths of the Crab Nebula is thought to rotate 30 times a second.

The recent composite image, composed of three separate images taken roughly 10 years apart, peers beyond the striking finery of the Crab Nebula's outer filaments to gaze at its neutron heart. Filimentary ionized gas is represented in red while a blue glow marks the radiation thrown out by electrons spiraling within the star's powerful magnetic field at close to the speed of light.

The neutron star itself can be observed as the upper right-hand star of the two brightest stars near the center of the image. The short video below zooms in from the constellation of Taurus to the inner parts of the Crab Nebula.

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