This new multiwavelength image of the Crab Nebula combines X-ray light from the Chandra X-ray Observatory (in blue) with visible light from the Hubble Space Telescope (in yellow) and infrared light seen by the Spitzer Space Telescope (in red). This particular combination of light from across the electromagnetic spectrum highlights the nested structure of the pulsar wind nebula.
The X-rays reveal the beating heart of the Crab, the neutron-star remnant from the supernova explosion seen almost a thousand years ago. This neutron star is the super-dense collapsed core of an exploded star and is now a pulsar that rotates at a blistering rate of 30 times per second. A disk of X-ray-emitting material, spewing jets of high-energy particles perpendicular to the disk, surrounds the pulsar. The infrared light in this image shows synchrotron radiation, formed from streams of charged particles spiraling around the pulsar’s strong magnetic fields.
The visible light is emission from oxygen that has been heated by higher-energy (ultraviolet and X-ray) synchrotron radiation. The delicate tendrils seen in visible light form what astronomers call a “cage” around the rich tapestry of synchrotron radiation, which in turn encompasses the energetic fury of the X-ray disk and jets. These multiwavelength interconnected structures illustrate that the pulsar is the main energy source for the emission seen by all three telescopes.
The Crab Nebula resides 6,500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Taurus.