The Crab Nebula goes back to 1054, opening a window into our cosmic past.
On July 4, 1054, Chinese astronomers recorded a “guest star” in the Taurus constellation.
Later research uncovered contemporaneous sightings in Japan and the Middle East.
Temporarily outshining Venus, it faded after about two years: a common supernova.
Hundreds of years later, its remnant was astronomically discovered.
John Bevis found it in 1731, but it was a big source of confusion in 1758.
Halley’s comet was due to return that year, also in Taurus.
However, this faint, fuzzy, nebulous sight confounded many.
It wasn’t a comet, but a distant object ~6,500 light-years away.
Rediscovered independently by Charles Messier, it sparked the creation of astronomy’s most famous catalogue.
Nearly a millennium later, we actively see this remnant expanding.
Its central engine is powered by a pulsing neutron star: the collapsed core of a very massive star.
The former star’s outer layers, meanwhile, were ejected at tremendous speeds.
Smashing into previous ejecta and illuminated by radiation, they’re brilliantly visible today.
After 967 years — nearly a full millennium — this supernova remnant spans 11 light-years across.
Its outskirts are still expanding at ~0.5% the speed of light.
The elements found inside indicate these type II supernovae create the majority of many heavy elements.
Mostly Mute Monday tells an astronomical story in images, visuals, and no more than 200 words. Talk less; smile more.
Starts With A Bang is written by Ethan Siegel, Ph.D., author of Beyond The Galaxy, and Treknology: The Science of Star Trek from Tricorders to Warp Drive.