The Crab Nebula (M1) is one of the most famous objects in the sky, for several reasons. Firstly, it is easily found just over a degree northwest from the southern horn tip star of Taurus, Zeta Tauri. Secondly, this softly glowing cloud of gases is fairly bright - well within the reach of an eight-inch scope even for city dwellers like me. Thirdly, the Crab is not your typical gas cloud - it is a supernova remnant, the blasted shell of a star that exploded in the year 1054 AD. Noticed and recorded by Chinese astronomers of the day as a brilliant "guest star" the dominated Taurus for months, this explosion eventually faded from view and it was not until 1731 that British astronomer John Bevis (no relation to Bevis & Butthead) found that there was a gas cloud right where the explosion happened.
revealed the nebula is still expanding through space, and a
rapidly spinning (30 times per second!) neutron star blasts radio
waves at us from ground zero at the cloud' s center. The Hubble
Space Telescope is only one of the many state-of-the-art
instruments peering at the Crab these days, trying to unravel the
mysteries of stellar catastrophe. Of course, that doesn't mean
YOU can't have a peek!