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Crab Nebula Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Suzanne Rose

Suzanne has taught all levels PK-graduate school and has a PhD in Instructional Systems Design. She currently teachers literacy courses to preservice and inservice teachers.

What do you think happens when a huge star explodes? In this lesson, you'll find out how an exploding star created the Crab Nebula. Read on to find out what the Crab Nebula is, when it was formed, and other facts.

A Bright New Star

If you were looking at the sky on July 4, 1054, almost one thousand years ago, you'd have seen something very unusual. All over the world—in China, Korea, Japan, and in what is now the American southwest—people noticed a new, very bright object in the sky. It was so bright that it could even be seen during the daytime for several weeks! It was also seen at night for almost two years after it was first spotted. Gradually, it faded and could no longer be seen.

What was this new bright object? We now call it the Crab Nebula. Let's look at how it was formed.

A Star Explodes

The Crab Nebula started out as a huge star, more than eight times bigger than our sun. Deep inside, a star produces lots of energy that pushes out from the core, or middle. This energy pushes out against the gravity that is pushing in on the star. If lots of energy is being produced inside, the star can keep gravity from crushing it.

Pulsar in the Crab Nebula
nebula

When the star doesn't produce enough energy in its core, gravity pushes in and collapses the star. That's what happened to the star that formed the Crab Nebula. It exploded and violently collapsed, forming what's called a neutron star. The gases and dust in the outer part of the star bounced off the center and spread far out into space making a huge cloud. When a star explodes like this, it's called a supernova. So, the Crab Nebula was formed when a supernova exploded.

Inside the Crab Nebula, the neutron star became a pulsar, which is a type of star that is very dense, or tightly packed. The pulsar spins around extremely fast and flashes as it sends out beams of light and radio waves that can be detected on Earth.

Crab Nebula Pulsar
pulsar

The yellow arrow in the pulsar image in this lesson is pointing to the pulsar inside the Crab Nebula.

Bevis, Messier, and Parsons

After it first faded from view, the Crab Nebula wasn't seen again for almost 700 years! An English astronomer, John Bevis, saw it and made a note of it, and then Charles Messier, a famous comet-hunter saw it in 1758 when he was hunting for comets in the night sky. He started a list of all the things he saw that weren't comets; the Crab Nebula was the first item on this list, so he named it ''M1.''

Astronomer Charles Messier
messier

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