m1 – The crab nebula

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Lupe Rioné, Amateur astronomer (Spain)

Type

supernova remnant

Location

Constellation of Taurus

Distance

6.300 light-years

Size

10-11 light-years

Supernova remnant: results from a supernova explosion. With intense radio frequencies, they disappear as cosmic dust expands, leaving behind a neutron star, pulsar, or a black hole, depending on the mass of the star. 

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History and discovery

M1 is the remnant of a supernova explosion that was observed by Chinese astronomers during the Song Dynasty in the 11th century. It is estimated that this explosion occurred between July and August of 1054 or 1056. Later, the remnant of this explosion was identified in 1731 by the amateur astronomer John Bevis, but it was Chales Messier who rediscovered it while observing a comet (1758 of the Nux). He proved that it was not moving and concluded that it was a nebula. Messier measured its position on September 12, 1758. Years later, in 1774, it was his first entry in his famous “Catalog of Nebulae and Star Clusters”.

Compiste image of M1. It uses data from three NASA observatories. The X-ray image (Chandra) is shown in blue (center of image). The optical image (Hubble) is shown in green and dark blue. The infrared image (Spitzer) in red.

This is the largest image ever taken by the Hubble Space Telescope camera. It is a set of 24 individual exposures. Credits: NASA /ESA/Hubble. J.Hester, A.Loll (ASU)

Lord Roose called the nebula the “Crab” in 1844 because of its peculiar structure. Since then, it has been an object of fascination for many astronomers and amateurs. In 1939, astronomer John Duncan determined that the nebula was expanding and probably originated from a single point. Later, astronomer Walter Baade observed in 1942 that a prominent star near the center of the nebula could be related to its origin. Scientists discovered six years later that M1 was emitting the most intense waves that any other celestial object had ever emitted. In 1954, Baade noted that M1 has outstanding magnetic fields, and in 1963, high-energy X-rays were discovered coming from the nebula.

Structure and composition

This nebula has material ejected by a supernova. The gas clouds were dispersed at a distance of approximately 10- 11 light years. The gas continues expanding at a speed of 18,000 km/s. This material is in the form of visible filaments and is composed mainly of helium and ionized hydrogen, accompanied by oxygen, carbon, iron, nitrogen, sulfur and neon. These filaments have a temperature between 11,000 and 18,000 k. And their density is based on about 1,300 particles per cubic centimeter!

Detail of the M1 filamentary structures. Credits: NASA/ESA/& The Hubble Heritage. Team (STcl)/ AURA.

Composite image. Hubble (blue) and Herschel Space Telescope (pink). Credit: ESA/HERSCHEL NASA/ ESA A. Loll and J. Hester

The supernova

In fact, the heart of this nebula houses 2 stars. However, they are not visible because the gas filaments are in the foreground. One of them is responsible for the nebula we see today. It is a star known as the Crab Pulsar or CM tau. This small, dense body is the result of the original star that caused the supernova.

A pulsar is the result of an explosion of a massive star, a dozen times the mass of the Sun. These celestial bodies emit strong electromagnetic radiation and rotate on their axis at high speeds per second.

This pulsar is about 20 km in diameter and rotates around its axis at about 30 revolutions per second, but the frequency of the pulses decreases regularly, which means that the rotation of the pulsar slows down regularly. The Crab Pulsar emits pulses of radiation at all wavelengths, from gamma rays to radio waves. The radiation from this star is so strong that it is creating a wave of matter that is simultaneously deforming the inner parts of the nebula. This provides an exceptional opportunity to observe changes of this type, since cosmic scenes of this magnitude, in time, are usually much longer. 

It is frankly extraordinary that it has been possible to follow the whole process of the death of the star from the beginning to the present time, becoming a pulsar (neutron star) and creating this wonderful nebula. There is still a lot of research to be done on this spectacular phenomenon of pulsars.

Widefield photography. Credits: Manu Mejias.

M1 can be located in the Perseus arm (Milky Way). And from our position in the constellation of Taurus (Taurus) that is why it is also called Taurus A.

Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known

Carl Sagan 

M10 – Globular Cluster | Cúmulo Globular

M10 is a very bright and star-rich cluster. Located in the constellation Ofiuco, it is estimated to be approximately 16,000 light-years from the center of our galaxy. An analysis of its radial velocity allows us to deduce that it is moving away from Earth at more than 271,440 km/h.

M9 – Globular Cluster | Cúmulo Globular

Like all globular clusters, M9 is a spectacle in itself, and one of the oldest and most intriguing objects in our galaxy. M9 stands out as one of the closest globular clusters to the center of our galaxy, only 5,500 light-years away.

M8 – Lagoon Nebula | Nebulosa de la Laguna

Like all emission nebulae, M8 or NGC 6523 is a gigantic HII region, that is, a spectacular cradle of stars. With a magnitude of 5.8, this incredible nebula boasts many large, hot stars, whose ultraviolet radiation sculpts the gases and cosmic dust, giving it its characteristic shape.

M7 – Open Cluster | Cúmulo Abierto

Also known as NGC 6475, M7 is an open cluster, that is, a group of gravitationally bound stars formed by the same molecular cloud. It is a very sparse cluster, located in a very rich region of the Milky Way.

M6 – Open Cluster | Cúmulo Abierto

This beautiful cluster comprises more than 200 stars and has a diameter of about 12-20 light-years. It is estimated that its stars were formed about 100 million years ago, which means that while dinosaurs roamed the planet, M6 was just beginning to shine in the sky.

M5 – Globular Cluster | Cúmulo Globular

The globular cluster M5 is probably one of the most interesting because it is one of the oldest, largest, and brightest clusters. It is located in the constellation of The Serpent (Serpens) at a distance of approximately 24,500 light-years.

M4 – Globular Cluster | Cúmulo Globular

Also called NGC 6121, M4 is the closest globular cluster to the Earth. M4 contains about 100,000 stars, and like most globular clusters, it is a very old structure, about 12-13 billion years old.

M3 – Globular Cluster | Cúmulo Globular

M3, also called NGC 5272, is one of the largest and most spectacular clusters that we can observe in our galaxy. In fact, M3 was the first original discovery by Charles Messier.

M2 – Globular Cluster | Cúmulo Globular

M2 is a globular star cluster and the second object in the Messier catalog. Also called NGC 7089, it was discovered in 1746 by French astronomer Jean-Dominique Maraldi.

M1 – Crab Nebula | Nebulosa del Cangrejo

M1 is the remnant of a supernova explosion that was observed by Chinese astronomers during the Song Dynasty in the 11th century.
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