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. 

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images
Stephen Hawking’s Memorial Will Beam His Words Toward the Nearest Black Hole
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

An upcoming memorial for Stephen Hawking is going to be out of this world. The late physicist’s words, set to music, will be broadcast by satellite toward the nearest black hole during a June 15 service in the UK, the BBC reports.

During his lifetime, Hawking signed up to travel to space on Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic spaceship, but he died before he ever got the chance. (He passed away in March.) Hawking’s daughter Lucy told the BBC that the memorial's musical tribute is a “beautiful and symbolic gesture that creates a link between our father's presence on this planet, his wish to go into space, and his explorations of the universe in his mind.” She described it as "a message of peace and hope, about unity and the need for us to live together in harmony on this planet."

Titled “The Stephen Hawking Tribute,” the music was written by Greek composer Vangelis, who created the scores for Blade Runner and Chariots of Fire. It will play while Hawking’s ashes are interred at Westminster Abbey, near where Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin are buried, according to Cambridge News. After the service, the piece will be beamed into space from the European Space Agency’s Cebreros Station in Spain. The target is a black hole called 1A 0620-00, “which lives in a binary system with a fairly ordinary orange dwarf star,” according to Lucy Hawking.

Hawking wasn't the first person to predict the existence of black holes (Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity accounted for them back in the early 1900s), but he spoke at length about them throughout his career and devised mathematical theorems that gave credence to their existence in the universe.

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch, a friend of the Hawking family who portrayed the late scientist in the BBC film Hawking, will speak at the service. In addition to Hawking's close friends and family, British astronaut Tim Peake and several local students with disabilities have also been invited to attend.

[h/t BBC]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
IKEA
IKEA's New Collection for Tiny Apartments Is Inspired by Life on Mars
IKEA
IKEA

Living in a city apartment can feel claustrophobic at times. As Co.Design reports, the Swedish furniture brand IKEA took this experience to the extreme when designers visited a simulated Mars habitat as research for their latest line of housewares aimed at urbanites.

The new collection, called Rumtid, is tailored to fit the cramped spaces that many people are forced to settle for when apartment-hunting in dense, expensive cities. The designers knew they wanted to prioritize efficiency and functionality with their new project, and Mars research provided the perfect inspiration.

At the Mars Society's Mars Desert Research Station in Utah, scientists are figuring out how to meet the needs of potential Mars astronauts with very limited resources. Materials have to be light, so that they require as little rocket fuel as possible to ferry them to the red planet, and should ideally run on renewable energy.

IKEA's designers aren't facing quite as many challenges, but spending a few days at the simulated Martian habitat in Utah got them thinking on the right track. The team also conducted additional research at the famously snug capsule hotels in Tokyo. The Rumtid products they came up with include an indoor terrarium shaped like a space-age rocket, a set of colorful, compact air purifiers, and light-weight joints and bars that can be snapped into modular furniture.

The collection isn't ready to hit IKEA shelves just yet—the chain plans to make Rumtid available for customers by 2020. In the meantime, the designers hope to experiment with additional science fiction-worthy ideas, including curtains that clean the air around them.

Air purifiers designed for urban living.

Furniture joints on bubble wrap on black table.

Modular furniture holding water bag.

[h/t Co.Design]

All images courtesy of IKEA.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios