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(Credit: NASA/CXC/ASU/J. Hester et al.)

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Crab Nebula:
The Spirit of Halloween Lives on as a Dead Star Creates Celestial Havoc

Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/ASU/J.Hester et al.; Optical: NASA/ESA/ASU/J.Hester & A.Loll; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. Minn./R.Gehrz

According to the folklore of the Celts and other ancient cultures, Halloween marked the midpoint between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice on the astronomical calendar, a spooky night when spirits of the dead spread havoc upon their return to Earth.

Nowadays, Halloween is primarily a time for children to dress in costume and demand treats, but the original spirit of Halloween lives on in the sky in the guise of the Crab Nebula.

A star's spectacular death in the constellation Taurus was observed on Earth as the supernova of 1054 A.D. Now, almost a thousand years later, a superdense neutron star left behind by the stellar death is spewing out a blizzard of extremely high-energy particles into the expanding debris field known as the Crab Nebula.

This composite image uses data from three of NASA's Great Observatories. The Chandra X-ray image is shown in light blue, the Hubble Space Telescope optical images are in green and dark blue, and the Spitzer Space Telescope's infrared image is in red. The size of the X-ray image is smaller than the others because ultrahigh-energy X-ray emitting electrons radiate away their energy more quickly than the lower-energy electrons emitting optical and infrared light. The neutron star, which has the mass equivalent to the sun crammed into a rapidly spinning ball of neutrons twelve miles across, is the bright white dot in the center of the image.

Fast Facts for Crab Nebula:
Credit  X-ray: NASA/CXC/ASU/J.Hester et al.; Optical: NASA/ESA/ASU/J.Hester & A.Loll; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. Minn./R.Gehrz
Scale  Image is 7.8 arcmin per side
Category  Supernovas & Supernova Remnants, Neutron Stars/X-ray Binaries
Coordinates (J2000)  RA 05h 34m 32s | Dec +22 0.0' 52.00"
Constellation  Taurus
Observation Date  January 31, 2001
Observation Time  7 hours
Obs. ID  2001
Color Code  X-ray: Blue-Purple; Optical: Green; Infrared: Red
Instrument  ACIS
Distance Estimate  About 6,500 light years
Release Date  October 24, 2006