Thursday, December 01, 2005

A big serving of Crab


They used to say in astrophysics, there was the Crab Nebula -- and everything else. This was because we didn't have fancy x-ray and gamma-ray telescopes like Chandra and Compton taking pictures of the high-energy universe.

But back to the Crab, because the Hubble has taken the most detailed picture of it to date. The Crab is a star that exploded years ago, its light reached us in 1054 and was recorded by Chinese astronomers. (I am sure there are Western historians of astronomy who would sacrifice anything to find evidence that Europeans saw it.)

The Crab Nebula is also known as M1 on Charles Messier's list of celestial objects. It is probably the most famous object in the sky for not looking like its pictures. It looks like a circular gray smear in an average star field. I had my best view of it ever through my 8" telescope with a 40mm eyepiece (this gives a nice wide field) in October.