Stellar tell-tale heart


The Crab Nebula harbours a neutron star that 'beats' 30 times each second.


NASA / ESA

The eerie glow of a dead star, which exploded long ago as a supernova, reveals itself in this NASA Hubble Space Telescope image of the Crab Nebula. But don't be fooled. The ghoulish-looking object still has a pulse. Buried at its centre is the star's tell-tale heart which beats with rhythmic precision.

The "heart" is the crushed core of the exploded star. Called a neutron star, it has about the same mass as the sun but is squeezed into an ultra-dense sphere that is only a few miles across and 100 billion times stronger than steel. The tiny powerhouse is the bright star-like object near the centre of the image.

This surviving remnant is a tremendous dynamo, spinning 30 times a second. The wildly whirling object produces a deadly magnetic field that generates an electrifying trillion volts. This energetic activity unleashes wisp-like waves that form an expanding ring, most easily seen to the upper right of the pulsar.

The nebula's hot gas glows in radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum, from radio to X-rays. The Hubble exposures were taken in visible light as black-and-white exposures. The Advanced Camera for Surveys made the observations between January and September 2012.

Curated content from the editorial staff at Cosmos Magazine.
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