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Recent Podcast
A Tour of the Biggest Explosion Ever Seen in the Universe
A Tour of the Biggest Explosion Ever Seen in the Universe
Astronomers have discovered the biggest explosion seen in the Universe in a galaxy cluster 390 million light years away. (2020-02-27)


A Tour of the Crab Nebula 3D Visualization

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In the year 1054 AD, Chinese sky watchers witnessed the sudden appearance of a "new star" in the heavens, which they recorded as six times brighter than Venus, making it the brightest observed stellar event in recorded history. This "guest star," as they described it, was so bright that people saw it in the sky during the day for almost a month. Native Americans also recorded its mysterious appearance in petroglyphs.

Observing the nebula with the largest telescope of the time, Lord Rosse in 1844 named the object the "Crab" because of its tentacle-like structure. But it wasn't until the 1900s that astronomers realized the nebula was the surviving relic of the 1054 supernova, the explosion of a massive star.

Now, astronomers and visualization specialists have combined the visible, infrared, and X-ray vision of NASA's Great Observatories to create a three-dimensional representation of the dynamic Crab Nebula. Certain structures and processes, driven by the pulsar engine at the heart of the nebula, are best seen at particular wavelengths.

The multiwavelength computer graphics visualization is based on images from the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes. The new video dissects the intricate nested structure that makes up this stellar corpse, giving viewers a better understanding of the extreme and complex physical processes powering the nebula. The powerhouse "engine" energizing the entire system is a pulsar, a rapidly spinning neutron star, the super-dense crushed core of the exploded star. The tiny dynamo is blasting out blistering pulses of radiation towards us 30 times a second with unbelievable clockwork precision.

The visualization is one of a new generation of products and experiences being developed by the NASA's Universe of Learning program. It helps illustrate the power of what astronomers call "multiwavelength" astronomy where different types of light are combined to get a more complete understanding of the Universe and objects within it.

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