What supernova created the Crab nebula? (Intermediate)

A business partner and I are researching the Crab Nebula and more importantly the Super Nova Event that generated the Nebula. I was wondering if you could tell me the following.

1. What was the star that went super nova?

2. Where was it located?

3. Are there any records on the magnitude of the Super nova event? I.E. how visible it was from our planet, how luminescent it was.

This information will help us greatly with our project. I can assure you that this is not for our homework, this is for a project we are working on as a business. Thank you.

The supernova that created the Crab Nebula was observed in 1054 by Chinese astronomers and was the first supernova observation ever recorded. The event was linked to the Crab Nebula in the 1930s when modern studies of supernovae were starting to take off.

Since a neutron star is observed in the centre of the Crab Nebula it is believed that the star that went supernovae was a massive star, many times larger than the sun. When this star ran out of fuel it collapsed to a neutron star, and the outer layers were violently thrown off to form the supernova explosion.

The Crab nebula is about 6500 light years away. The magnitude system had been invented when the supernova was observed (it was invented by Hipparcos, a Greek astronomer). However the Chinese Astronomers that observed the supernova made no estimate of the magnitude. It must have been bright though, as they did record that it was visible during the day for 3 weeks!

By the way, I would be most interested to know what business project you are working on that involves supernova. I would appreciate a reply letting me know!

My partner an I are writing a screen play that revolves around the Super nova Event. Our premise is that we will show how man reacted at that time to a "heavenly" event such as that. It will be purely fictional but I wanted to know as much about the crab nebula as I could get. Additionally, it is an absolutely facinating subject. The fact that the neutron star spins at 32 cycles per second is magnificent.

Thank you for your information. It was really helpful.

You might want to look at this list from APOD (Astronomy Picture of the Day) for a series of very nice Crab Nebula pictures. The below image (taken from this list) is one of my favourites:

Crab Nebula

There is also lots on the web. Look at this page for a general discussion of the event (more figures). This page has some of the actual text from the records of the event. I'm sure you could find much more on the web. Try searching using google.com

Good luck with your screen play.

Update by Michael Lam, July 18, 2015: The first supernova observation recorded was not in 1054 CE but in 185 CE by Chinese astronomers and was visible for many months (source).

This page was last updated on July 18, 2015.

About the Author

Karen Masters

Karen Masters

Karen was a graduate student at Cornell from 2000-2005. She went on to work as a researcher in galaxy redshift surveys at Harvard University, and is now on the Faculty at the University of Portsmouth back in her home country of the UK. Her research lately has focused on using the morphology of galaxies to give clues to their formation and evolution. She is the Project Scientist for the Galaxy Zoo project.

Twitter:  @KarenLMasters
Website:  http://icg.port.ac.uk/~mastersk/

Search Our Q&A Archive

Most Popular

Our Reddit AMAs

AMA = Ask Me (Us) Anything