This 3D visualization features the Crab Nebula, the glowing remains of a supernova explosion witnessed by Chinese astronomers nearly 1,000 years ago. The movie is based on images spanning the spectrum of light from NASA’s three Great Observatories: the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Hubble (visible) and Spitzer (infrared) Space Telescopes.
The movie begins by showing the Crab Nebula in context, pinpointing the location of the observed supernova in the constellation Taurus. This view zooms in to present the Hubble, Spitzer, and Chandra images of the Crab Nebula, each highlighting one of the nested structures in the system.
At the very center lies a "pulsar," the tiny core left over from the explosion. More massive than our entire Sun but under 20 miles in diameter, the Crab Nebula pulsar rotates about 30 times a second, and the charged particle "winds" that are accelerated along its spinning magnetic fields are responsible for lighting up the nebula as we see it today.
The video then begins a slow buildup of the three-dimensional X-ray structure, showing the pulsar and disk of energized material, and adding jets of particles firing off from opposite sides of the energetic dynamo.
Appearing next is a rotating infrared view of a glowing cloud of emission, called synchrotron radiation, enveloping the pulsar system. This distinctive form of radiation occurs when streams of charged particles spiral around the pulsar’s magnetic field lines.
The visible-light outer shell of the Crab Nebula appears next. Looking like a cage around the entire system, this shell of glowing gas consists of tentacle-shaped filaments of ionized oxygen. The tsunami of particles unleashed by the pulsar is pushing on this expanding debris cloud like an animal rattling its cage.
The X-ray, infrared, and visible-light models are combined at the end of the movie to reveal both a rotating three-dimensional multiwavelength view and the corresponding two-dimensional multiwavelength image of the Crab Nebula.
Here you will find extensive information about the Crab Nebula supernova remnant including additional videos and instructions for making a 3D-printed model of it.
This handy guide provides assets for 3D printing your own physical models of supernova remnants and the telescopes that observe them. You can also find detailed instructions for 3D modeling with Tinkercad.
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Astronomical images are appreciated for their beauty, but they are also our windows into the vast and complex universe around us. Understanding how these abstract blends of color and form represent real, three dimensional structures is not always easy, even for astronomers who have spent their career studying them.
The goal of the AstroViz ("Astronomy Visualization") project is to take images from across the spectrum of light, and using the best current scientific understanding, extrapolate them into 3D forms that take us on virtual journeys to these distant locations. These cinematic experiences let everyone see how these are not just pictures... they are places. The stories of these places increase awareness, understanding, and enthusiasm for the universe.
AstroViz is one of a multitude of projects from NASA's Universe of Learning, which connects the public to the data, discoveries, and experts that spans NASA Astrophysics.
Browse all of the AstroViz videos at NASA's Universe of Learning