The Crab Nebula, M1
To see the faint detail in this image, adjust your monitor's brightness and contrast to clearly show all 17 steps in this grayscale chart:
Click here to see a larger image: M1 (1200x800 pixels)
About The Crab Nebula
The first entry in Charles Messier's list of non-comets is the Crab Nebula, a supernova remnant in the constellation Taurus. According to Chinese records that may have chronicled the stellar explosion that gave birth to this nebula, the supernova occurred on July 4, 1054 AD. The supernova was visible in the daytime for twenty-three days before fading from view. "For a few weeks the star was blazing with the light of about 400 million suns" according to Robert Burnham Jr.
Today, amateur astronomers can observe (and photograph) this fiery wonder through toy telescopes and marvel at this amazing object. During its 948-year lifetime, M1 has grown to a diameter of about 6 light years and is expanding at over 600 miles per second. Comparisons of photographs of the nebula taken several years apart reveal the rapid expansion of the nebula.
At the core of the Crab Nebula lies a rapidly-spinning neutron star formed when the supernova explosion compressed the core of the original star into a super-dense state of matter. The neutron star is thought to be only a few miles in diameter and it spins at approximately 1800 RPM. (That's commensurate with the rotational speed of an automobile engine at freeway speeds.)