Experts used images from large space observatories to dissect the Crab Nebula and portray it in a breathtaking 3D view.
By A. J. Oliveira
Jan 10, 2020, 8:12 pm
One of the most popular night sky nebulae has just won a stunning 3D visualization. Produced by researchers from NASA space telescope imagery, the video shows in unprecedented detail the interior of the Crab Nebula – an object that has fascinated astronomers for centuries and has been the subject of intense study since then. Now we have a chance to contemplate your insides.
This was only possible thanks to the joint efforts of the three major observatories that NASA operates off Earth: Hubble, Chandra and Spitzer. Each observes the universe in its own way, exploring distinct regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. As we all know, Hubble focuses its research on visible light, while Spitzer conducts studies on the infrared spectrum, and Chandra captures the frequency of x-rays.
It would be impossible to dissect the Crab Nebula using only data from one of them, as it contains processes and structures visible only at one of the three wavelengths. Frank Summers, the visualization scientist who led the video's creation, explains what motivated the production. "Seeing two-dimensional images of an object, especially of a complex structure like the Crab Nebula, is not a good idea of its three-dimensional nature," he said.
The venture was led by NASA's Universe of Learning program, which aims to create amazing experiences from exploring the universe. “With this scientific interpretation, we want to help people understand the nested and interconnected geometry of the Crab Nebula. The interaction of observations at multiple wavelengths illuminates all of these structures. Without combining X-rays, infrared and visible light, you can't see the whole. ”
After showing the location of the beautiful nebula in the Taurus constellation, the video zooms in and then begins to contextualize each "layer" of the object – created from the violent explosion of a very massive star. In the center is a pulsar: the remains of the ancient star in an extremely dense and frantic spinning state, emitting 30 pulses per second. In this high energy regime, the best option is X-ray.
In addition to the pulsar, Chandra has also captured the disk of energized material that revolves around it, as well as the two particle jets it emits in opposite directions. The video then shows the cloud of gas and dust surrounding the system, as well as the brightness of a specific form of radiation that arises from the interaction between charged particles and magnetic fields – synchrotron light. And the good thing here is infrared, observed by Spitzer.
Hubble's visible light, on the other hand, was instrumental in shaping the crab's outer shell, which seems to cage everything inside. These tentacles are formed by ionized oxygen filaments (which have one or more electrons missing). With the video, in addition to scrutinizing the star nebula that exploded in 1054 and was observed by the Chinese, the public also understands in a compelling and educational way why astronomers need various wavelengths to investigate the cosmos as it should.