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A Flickering X-ray Candle

The Crab Nebula, created by a supernova seen nearly a thousand years ago, is one of the sky's most famous "star wrecks." For decades, most astronomers have regarded it as the steadiest beacon at X-ray energies, but data from orbiting observatories show unexpected variations, showing astronomers their hard X-ray "standard candle" isn't as steady as they once thought. From 1999 to 2008, the Crab brightened and faded by as much as 3.5 percent a year, and since 2008, it has faded by 7 percent. The Gamma-ray Burst Monitor on NASA's Fermi satellite first detected the decline, and Fermi's Large Area Telescope also spotted two gamma-ray flares at even higher energies. Scientists think the X-rays reveal processes deep within the nebula, in a region powered by a rapidly spinning neutron star -- the core of the star that blew up. But figuring out exactly where the Crab's X-rays are changing over the long term will require a new generation of X-ray telescopes.
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More information on this topic available at:
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/GLAST/news/crab-nebula-surprise.html

A short narrated video about the Crab Nebula's variability. Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Watch this video on the NASAexplorer YouTube channel.    A short narrated video about the Crab Nebula's variability.

Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Watch this video on the NASAexplorer YouTube channel.

For complete transcript, click here.
Duration: 1.8 minutes
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  320x180     PNG           264 KB
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NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory reveals the complex X-ray-emitting central region of the Crab Nebula. This image is 9.8 light-years across. Chandra observations were not compatible with the study of the nebula's hard X-ray variations. Credit: NASA/CXC/SAO/F. Seward et al.    NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory reveals the complex X-ray-emitting central region of the Crab Nebula. This image is 9.8 light-years across. Chandra observations were not compatible with the study of the nebula's hard X-ray variations.

Credit: NASA/CXC/SAO/F. Seward et al.

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X-ray data from NASA's Fermi, RXTE, and Swift satellites and the European Space Agency's International Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory (INTEGRAL) confirm that the Crab Nebula's output has declined about 7 percent in two years at energies from 15,000 to 50,000 electron volts. They also show that the Crab has brightened or faded by as much as 3.5 percent a year since 1999. Fermi's Large Area Telescope (LAT) has detected powerful gamma-ray flares (magenta lines) as well. Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center    X-ray data from NASA's Fermi, RXTE, and Swift satellites and the European Space Agency's International Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory (INTEGRAL) confirm that the Crab Nebula's output has declined about 7 percent in two years at energies from 15,000 to 50,000 electron volts. They also show that the Crab has brightened or faded by as much as 3.5 percent a year since 1999. Fermi's Large Area Telescope (LAT) has detected powerful gamma-ray flares (magenta lines) as well.

Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

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X-ray data from NASA's Fermi, RXTE, and Swift satellites and the European Space Agency's International Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory (INTEGRAL) confirm that the Crab Nebula's output has declined about 7 percent in two years at energies from 15,000 to 50,000 electron volts. They also show that the Crab has brightened or faded by as much as 3.5 percent a year since 1999. Fermi's Large Area Telescope (LAT) has detected powerful gamma-ray flares (magenta lines) as well. No Labels. Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center    X-ray data from NASA's Fermi, RXTE, and Swift satellites and the European Space Agency's International Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory (INTEGRAL) confirm that the Crab Nebula's output has declined about 7 percent in two years at energies from 15,000 to 50,000 electron volts. They also show that the Crab has brightened or faded by as much as 3.5 percent a year since 1999. Fermi's Large Area Telescope (LAT) has detected powerful gamma-ray flares (magenta lines) as well. No Labels.

Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

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This view of the Crab Nebula in visible light comes from the Hubble Space Telescope and spans 12 light-years. The supernova remnant, located 6,500 light-years away in the constellation Taurus, is among the best-studied objects in the sky. Credit: NASA/ESA/ASU/J. Hester    This view of the Crab Nebula in visible light comes from the Hubble Space Telescope and spans 12 light-years. The supernova remnant, located 6,500 light-years away in the constellation Taurus, is among the best-studied objects in the sky.

Credit: NASA/ESA/ASU/J. Hester

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Graph of Crab Nebula variablity with low-resolution    Graph of Crab Nebula variablity with low-resolution "pixel" view of Crab Nebula.

Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

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Artist interpretation of Crab supernova. Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center    Artist interpretation of Crab supernova.

Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

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Short URL to This Page:http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/goto?10708
Animation Number:10708
Completed:2011-01-09
Animator:Scott Wiessinger (UMBC)
Narrator:Scott Wiessinger (UMBC)
Producer:Scott Wiessinger (UMBC)
Scientist:Colleen Wilson-Hodge (NASA/MSFC)
Writer:Francis Reddy (SPSYS)
Platforms/Sensors/Data Sets:Fermi
 Fermi/LAT
 Swift
Series:Narrated Movies
 Fermi
 Goddard Shorts
 Astrophysics Stills
 Astrophysics Features
Goddard TV Tape:G2011-005 -- Crab Nebula Variability
Please give credit for this item to:
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. However, each image should be credited as indicated above.
 
Keywords:
SVS >> Gamma Ray
SVS >> HDTV
SVS >> Neutron Star
SVS >> Satellite
SVS >> X-ray
SVS >> Pulsar
SVS >> Swift
SVS >> Fermi
DLESE >> Narrated
SVS >> Supernova
SVS >> Star
SVS >> Nebula
NASA Science >> Universe
Science paper:http://iopscience.iop.org/2041-8205/727/2/L40/pdf/apjl_727_2_40.pdf
 
 


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Many of our multimedia items use the GCMD keywords. These keywords can be found on the Internet with the following citation:
Olsen, L.M., G. Major, K. Shein, J. Scialdone, S. Ritz, T. Stevens, M. Morahan, A. Aleman, R. Vogel, S. Leicester, H. Weir, M. Meaux, S. Grebas, C.Solomon, M. Holland, T. Northcutt, R. A. Restrepo, R. Bilodeau, 2013. NASA/Global Change Master Directory (GCMD) Earth Science Keywords. Version 8.0.0.0.0

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