Courtesy of NASA

It's the universe's most mesmerizing mystery.

Cailey Rizzo
May 26, 2017

Scientists are piecing together a clearer picture of one of the universe’s most photogenic mysteries, with help from telescopes all around the world.

The Crab Nebula has enchanted astronomers since it was first discovered in 1054. The psychedelic pattern in the sky is the result of a bright supernova explosion that was recorded by Chinese astronomers at the time.

The nebula is located about 6,500 light years from Earth in the constellation Taurus. Although it’s barely visible to the human eye (without the assistance of a telescope), it is constantly expanding. Scientists currently measure the nebula at 10 light years wide.

At the middle of the nebula is a rapidly spinning neutron star called a pulsar. The pulsar flickers as it spins around “once every 33 milliseconds, shooting out rotating lighthouse-like beams of radio waves and visible light,” according to the European Space Agency.

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And now, thanks to a new composite of data from five different telescopes (radio waves from the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array, infrared from the Spitzer Space Telescope, visible light from the Hubble Space Telescope, ultraviolet from the XMM-Newton and X-ray waves from the Chandra X-ray Observatory), astronomers have pieced together a clearer picture of the giant cloud of gas and dust.

“Comparing these new images, made at different wavelengths, is providing us with a wealth of new detail about the Crab Nebula,” Gloria Dubner, a researcher at the University of Buenos Aires, said in a statement. “Though the Crab has been studied extensively for years, we still have much to learn about it.”

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