The James Webb Space Telescope captures new details of the Crab Nebula, 6,500 light-years away, in this recently released image. While these remains of an exploded star have been well-studied by multiple observatories, including the Hubble Space Telescope, Webb’s infrared sensitivity and resolution offer new clues into the makeup and origins of this scene.
Thanks to Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), scientists were able to determine the composition of the material ejected from the explosion. The supernova remnant is comprised of several different components, including doubly ionized sulfur (represented in red-orange), ionized iron (blue), dust (yellow-white and green), and synchrotron emission (white). In this image, colors were assigned to different filters from Webb’s NIRCam and MIRI: blue (F162M), light blue (F480M), cyan (F560W), green (F1130W), orange (F1800W), and red (F2100W).
The Crab Nebula, also known as Messier 1 (M1) and NGC 1952, is a supernova remnant located in the constellation Taurus. This nebula is the aftermath of a supernova explosion, first observed on Earth in 1054 AD. The explosion was so bright that it was visible in the daytime sky for weeks.
At the heart of the Crab Nebula lies a pulsar, a highly magnetized, rotating neutron star, which emits pulses of radiation ranging from gamma rays to radio waves. This pulsar is about 28 to 30 kilometers in diameter and spins approximately 30 times per second.
The Crab Nebula is approximately 6,500 light-years away from Earth and spans about 10 light-years across. Its intricate structure is a complex mesh of gas filaments and dust, illuminated and energized by the pulsar’s intense electromagnetic radiation. This makes it a popular subject for study in astronomy, across various wavelengths of light.
The Crab Nebula’s significance in astronomy is multifaceted. It serves as an important source for studying the remnants of supernovae, the properties of neutron stars, and the dynamics of pulsar wind nebulae. Due to its relatively close proximity and distinct features, it remains one of the most studied objects in the night sky.