Imaging a Pulsar

Imaging a Pulsar

I certainly never thought that one day I'd be taking pictures of a pulsar in deep space from my backyard.  Yet, here we are.

The first object in Charles Messier's catalog, Messier 1, is rather notable.   Almost a millennium ago, in the year 1054, Chinese astronomers noted a new "star" in the sky that was bright enough to be seen during the daytime.   Of course, little was known of this at the time and for around 700 years it was only a footnote in history.   In the 1700s, it was rediscovered by at least a couple astronomers.  Messier added it to his list of comet-like objects.   It later earned the nickname, the Crab Nebula, due to some of the the first sketches resembling the form of a crab.

It wasn't until subsequent photographic assessments in the twentieth century that astronomers realized the true nature of this nebula.   It was visibly expanding in each observation!   Tracing the growth in reverse tells a compelling story that this expansion began 1000 years ago, placing it squarely in line with the initial Chinese observation.

The Crab Nebula is a supernova remnant.  The progenitor star exploded, sending shells of gas outward as the inner core, no longer able to support itself with fusion, compressed into a rapidly spinning pulsar.  This is one of the more extreme objects in the universe and it is literally sitting there in our cosmic backyard about 6,500 light years away from our solar system.   

Within the core of the nebula, the dominant force is the outward radiation from the pulsar.   This is known as a "pulsar wind nebula".   Our proximity to the Crab Nebula allows for some detailed observation, but it is tricky due to the supernova remnants that encase the core like a shell.   

I wanted a deeper look.  So, here's my attempt.

M1 - The Crab Nebula in NIRHaRGB by Jason Guenzel
This image was developed using photographic filters over the camera that not only pass visible light, but infrared light as well.   The result gives the viewer the opportunity to see more than the human eyes can allow!    Here we see the extended tendrils of ionized hydrogen in red.   This is what is classically known as the "supernova remnant".   It contains the outer atmosphere of the star that was shed in the event.   The blue tones are the contribution of the infrared light, which displays the form of the pulsar wind nebula.    The infrared contains allows us to visualize the disk surrounding the pulsar, as well as the polar jet emanating from within.  
It is possible to take this visualization a step further, below we see the infrared light isolated and color mapped by intensity.   This pulsar wind nebula is created as charged plasma streams out into interstallar space, but is still manipulated by the powerful magnetic field generated by the spinning pulsar.   This is an extreme object !
M1 - The Crab Nebula in Near Infrared Light by Jason Guenzel
All told, the creation of these images required over 30 hours of exposure through my backyard telescope.   I used my Celestron EdgeHD 8" setup which can be viewed on my Gear page (when it's published)!   
  
Thanks and enjoy!  
  
One last thing ... you can find my comparision to the Hubble Space Telescope shot in this Instagram post ...  
  

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.