The Crab Nebula is the shattered remnant of a massive star that ended its life in a supernova explosion. Nearly a thousand years old, the supernova was noted in the constellation of Taurus by Chinese astronomers in the year 1054 AD.
This view of the supernova remnant obtained by the Spitzer Space Telescope shows an infrared view of this complex object. The blue-white region traces the cloud of energetic electrons trapped within the star's magnetic field, emitting so-called "synchrotron" radiation. The red features follow the well-known filamentary structures that permeate this nebula. Though they are known to contain hot gasses, their exact nature is still a mystery that astronomers are examining.
The energetic cloud of electrons is driven by a rapidly rotating neutron star, or pulsar, at its core. The nebula is about 6,500 light-years away from the Earth, and is 5 light-years across.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Gehrz (University of Minnesota)