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NASA and ESA, Acknowledgment: J. Hester (ASU) and M. Weisskopf (NASA/MSFC)
NASA and ESA, Acknowledgment: J. Hester (ASU) and M. Weisskopf (NASA/MSFC)

New Hubble Image Reveals the Beating Heart of the Crab Nebula

NASA and ESA, Acknowledgment: J. Hester (ASU) and M. Weisskopf (NASA/MSFC)
NASA and ESA, Acknowledgment: J. Hester (ASU) and M. Weisskopf (NASA/MSFC)

As celestial objects go, the Crab Nebula is still an infant. The spectacular nebula is less than 1000 years old and holds a rapidly pulsing neutron star at its center. A new close-up image from the Hubble Space Telescope reveals the nebula in all its dynamic glory. 

Active as it seems to us today, this flashing cosmic cloud was born of something even more exciting: the explosion of the Crab star in the year 1054 CE. The supernova was so massive and violent that it was plainly visible to humans on Earth. Chinese and Japanese astronomers recorded the astonishing event and watched the explosion’s remains until they faded from view. 

The bulk of the Crab star blew into stellar dust. Its core survived and became a ridiculously dense body called a neutron star. This star has the same mass as our Sun, all crammed into a sphere about 20 kilometers across. It whirls at a breathtaking rate, pulsing once every 33 seconds. 

That intense action is rendered beautifully in the new Hubble image, which is actually a composite of three super-high-resolution pictures, each in a different color, taken about 10 years apart. The image shows the neutron star (that’s the rightmost of the two bright stars) and its strobe-like beams of energy, as well as the shining debris created by that first enormous explosion. The pretty blue glow is the result of electrons whizzing through the neutron star’s intense magnetic field at nearly the speed of light. 

Click the image below for a closer look.

Not too shabby, Hubble. Not too shabby.

Bonus: Want to see the fiery Crab for yourself? Get yourself a pair of strong binoculars, head for some clear, dark sky, and look right between the horns of the constellation Taurus.

Know of something you think we should cover? Email us at tips@mentalfloss.com. 

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Watch Astronauts Assemble Pizza in Space
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iStock

Most everyone enjoys a good pizza party: Even astronauts living aboard the International Space Station.

As this video from NASA shows, assembling pizza in zero gravity is not only possible, it also has delicious results. The inspiration for the pizza feast came from Paolo Nespoli, an Italian astronaut who was craving one of his home country’s national dishes while working on the ISS. NASA’s program manager for the space station, Kirk Shireman, sympathized with his colleague and ordered pizzas to be delivered to the station.

NASA took a little longer responding to the request than your typical corner pizzeria might. The pizzas were delivered via the Orbital ATK capsule, and once they arrived, the ingredients had to be assembled by hand. The components didn’t differ too much from regular pizzas on Earth: Flatbread, tomato sauce, and cheese served as the base, and pepperoni, pesto, olives, and anchovy paste made up the toppings. Before heating them up, the astronauts had some fun with their creations, twirling them around like "flying saucers of the edible kind,” according to astronaut Randy Bresnik.

In case the pizza party wasn’t already a success, it also coincided with movie night on the International Space Station.

[h/t KHQ Q6]

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New Jersey Is Now Home to the Western Hemisphere's Largest Planetarium
Liberty Science Center
Liberty Science Center

Space-loving tourists often travel to Manhattan to visit the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. But starting December 9, they’ll be able to get their fill of stars and planets in nearby Jersey City. As Astronomy reports, New Jersey’s second-most-populous city is now home to the largest planetarium in the Western Hemisphere, and the fourth largest in the world.

The Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, an interactive science museum in Liberty State Park, opened in 1993. It’s home to 12 museum exhibition halls, aquariums, a live animal collection, and an IMAX dome theater. On July 31, 2017, the theater was closed for extensive renovations, thanks to a $5 million gift from an altruistic former high school teacher-turned-philanthropist, Jennifer Chalsty, who’s served as a science center trustee since 2004.

Renamed the Jennifer Chalsty Planetarium, the IMAX theater received a digital upgrade and a brand-new screen, and was provided with the requisite technology to serve as a planetarium. The theater’s dome is 60 feet high, with a diameter of 89 feet, and its 10-projector system broadcasts onto a 12,345-square-foot domed screen.

There are only three planetariums in the world that are larger than the Jennifer Chalsty Planetarium, and they’re all located in China and Japan. “You can fit any other planetarium in the Western Hemisphere inside the Jennifer Chalsty Planetarium,” said Paul Hoffman, the science center's president and CEO, in a press release. “Add in the state-of-the-art technology and you have a spectacular unique theater like none other in the world. Visitors will be able to fly through the universe, experience the grandness and vastness of space, roam planetary surfaces, navigate asteroid fields, and watch the latest full-dome movies."

[h/t Astronomy]

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