Crab Nebula's freaky tendrils star in new telescope portrait

A bevy of observatories get together to deliver a stunning new look at the space oddity known as the Crab Nebula.

Amanda Kooser
Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
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The Crab Nebula shows off its colorful legs.

G. Dubner (IAFE, CONICET-University of Buenos Aires) et al.; NRAO/AUI/NSF; A. Loll et al.; T. Temim et al.; F. Seward et al.; Chandra/CXC; Spitzer/JPL-Caltech; XMM-Newton/ESA; and Hubble/STScI

There are a lot of crazy-looking nebulae, but a new portrait launches the Crab Nebula into the upper echelons of space strangeness. The Space Telescope Science Institute's Hubble site says the image "captures the complexity of this tortured-looking supernova remnant."

The composite portrait exists thanks to a combination of images and data collected by five different observatories: the Hubble Space Telescope, the Spitzer Space Telescope, the XMM-Newton and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory (all located in space), and the ground-based VLA observatory in the US.

A neutron star known as the Crab Pulsar sits at the heart of the Crab Nebula. "The nebula's intricate shape is caused by a complex interplay of the pulsar, a fast-moving wind of particles coming from the pulsar, and material originally ejected by the supernova explosion and by the star itself before the explosion," notes the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

Though it's called the Crab Nebula, the name "Octopus Nebula" might have been more apt considering its dramatic tendril-like formations. The nebula is located about 6,500 light-years from our planet.

This isn't the first portrait of the Crab Nebula, but it is the most vivid. Hubble researchers released a lovely look at the nebula in 2016 as well as a ghostly green view later that same year.

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