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Hubble captures colorful complexities of Crab Nebula

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June 1, 2000
Web posted at: 1:03 a.m. EDT (0503 GMT)

(CNN) -- The Hubble Space Telescope has zoomed in on the center of the Crab Nebula, producing an image with unsurpassed detail of the convoluted celestial marvel, astronomers said Thursday.

Resembling an abstract modern painting, the composite picture highlights colorful streams of gas rushing from the heart of the nebula at more than 3 million miles (4.8 million km) per hour.

The explosion of a star 10 times as massive as the sun spawned the nebula in 1054. The supernova startled astronomers in China, who recorded the appearance of a new star so bright it shined in broad daylight for weeks.

The core of the star became a pulsar, or neutron star, that spins on its axis 30 times a second. It is discernable in the image as the lower of two moderately bright stars to the upper left of center.

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Heating up its surroundings, the pulsar produces a bluish glow in a nearby gas cloud, partly visible as a blue arc to the right.

Expelled by the explosion, the outer layers of the star became the colorful tangle of filaments strewn throughout the image. The yellow-green strands near the bottom are actually nearer the Earth than the pulsar and continue to approach at 300 miles (480 km) per second.

The orange and pink filaments near the top are on the other side of the pulsar and rush from Earth in the opposite direction.

The different colors manifest elements within the expanding gases. Orange indicates hydrogen; red, nitrogen; pink, sulfur; green, oxygen.

The expanding chemical elements will eventually become part of new stars and planets, according to astronomers. Hubble Heritage team scientists used pictures taken in 1995 with five different color filters to produce this new false-color composite of the nebula, located about 6,500 light-years from Earth.



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RELATED SITES:
HubbleSite
Hubble Heritage Project
NASA K-12 Internet: Live from the Hubble Space Telescope

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