Reality Straight Up!

Thoughts & Observations of a Free Range Astrophysicist

Crab Nebula

The Crab Nebula

The Crab Nebula is the remnant of a supernova – the explosion of a massive, luminous star – observed by Chinese astrologers in 1054 AD. And to astrophysicists, the Crab is one of the most important objects in the sky.


At the heart of the Crab is the Crab Pulsar. The Crab Pulsar is a rapidly spinning neutron star with a radius of only about 10 km and a mass greater than the mass of our Sun. It has a magnetic field 2 trillion times stronger than Earth’s, and is spinning on its axis 30 times a second.

Movie of the wind from the Crab Pulsar. Orange shows visible light images taken with the Hubble Space Telescope. Blue shows X-ray images taken with the Chandra X-ray Observatory.

In those extreme conditions the Crab Pulsar creates matter and antimatter from our energy and sends it streaming out into space at close to the speed of light. The resulting cloud of relativistic particles emits radiation all the way from the most energetic gamma rays to the longest wavelength radio. I headed a team that used two of NASA’s Great Observatories, the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory, to observe the Crab over an eight month period and make a movie of its dynamic behavior.

NASA Space Science Update: Televised press conference discussing the Hubble/Chandra movies of the Crab.

My invited review in Annual Reviews summarizes 20 years of research on the Crab Nebula.

My invited review in Annual Reviews summarizes 20 years of research on the Crab Nebula.

The physics going on at the heart of the Crab is similar to the physics going on around the supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies. But unlike distant quasars, cosmically speaking the Crab is in our own back yard. It is the only place in the sky where we can see these processes at work at close range.

The Crab Nebula was a major focus of my research for over 20 years. For those who would like to know more fascinating things about the Crab, I published an invited review of the Crab Nebula in Annual Reviews of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

The Crab Nebula  © Dr. Jeff Hester
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Reality Straight Up!

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Click on thumbnail to select post:

  • Schools in the Time of COVID  The Decision Will Ultimately Make ItselfPosted in Thoughts
  • COVID-19 Arrives  The Humanitarian Disaster is HerePosted in Thoughts
  • Correctly Predicting Failure  It’s time for scientists to get loudPosted in Thoughts
  • Typhoid Mary on Two Wheels  Spreading COVID one lap at a timePosted in Thoughts
  • Pine Boxes  Invest now, the numbers are going upPosted in Success & FailureThoughts
  • Scientists Stuck Inside  Curiosity in the Time of COVIDPosted in For Your ConsiderationThoughts
  • After COVID’s First Wave  No getting back to normalPosted in Success & FailureThoughts
  • COVID-19  Cutting through the confusionPosted in Success & FailureThoughts
  • Great Deceiverism 101  Explanation or Theory? Therein lies the rub.Posted in For Your ConsiderationUnreasonable Faith
  • One Step at a Time  The  not-so-mysterious origin of lifePosted in For Your ConsiderationUnreasonable Faith
  • The Mind’s Siren Call  Being certain is a primrose pathPosted in For Your ConsiderationUnreasonable Faith
  • Constrained Hallucinations  How the brain uses science to perceive the worldPosted in For Your ConsiderationUnreasonable Faith
  • You don’t tug on Superman’s cape. You don’t spit into the wind. Yes, schools are desperately important to kids. No, COVID-19 doesn’t care, and COVID is making the rules right now. Attempts to open schools this fall will fail of their own accord. The relevant question is how to meet the needs of children, families and the community in the face of that reality.

  • Currently new cases of COVID-19 in Arizona are doubling every 7 days. ICU beds in the state are already full. The rest of the country isn’t that far behind us. You do the math.

  • Now is not the time for scientists to be circumspect and silent. We are on the short end of a battle over whether truth even matters. If scientists do not stand up for what is real, who will?

  • The morning cyclist in my neighborhood may not be standing in the Michigan Statehouse carrying a gun and demanding her right to spread contagion far and wide, but she may as well be.

  • You know those nice charts and graphs that make it look like we are over the hump of COVID-19 and that things are about to get better? Those predictions are dead wrong, with an unfortunate emphasis on “dead.”

  • Imagine three gregarious scientists, each with the gift of the gab, all coping with stay-at-home orders. Of course we started a livestream/podcast talk show! What else would we do? Welcome to the kickoff episode of Scientists Stuck Inside.

  • Even after COVID-19 kills hundreds of thousands in the U.S. over the coming weeks, we will still be almost as vulnerable to the pandemic as we are today. We’d all love to “get back to normal” after that, but the price could be a second wave, worse than the first. Some see us facing either economic Depression or allowing vast numbers of preventable deaths, but that is a fool’s choice. There are better options if we have the will to find them.

  • There is a lot of information about COVID-19 out there, much of it misleading. When looking at the future, start with what the science really says.

  • If someone can’t tell you how they would know that they are wrong, they don’t have a clue whether they are right.

    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

  • Once seemingly incomprehensible, the origin of life no longer seems such a mystery. Most of what once appeared as roadblocks are turning out to be superhighways.

    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

  • Being certain lights up our brains like a junkie’s next hit. Literally. Unfortunately, being certain and being right are two very, very different things.

    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

  • The unique worlds we each consciously inhabit – the only worlds we will ever experience – are constrained hallucinations, products of hypothesis testing by our predictive brains.

    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

Over his 30 year career as an internationally known astrophysicist, Dr. Jeff Hester was a key member of the team that repaired the Hubble Space Telescope. With one foot always on the frontiers of knowledge, he has been mentor, coach, team leader, award-winning teacher, administrator and speaker, to name a few of the hats he has worn. His Hubble image, the Pillars of Creation, was chosen by Time Magazine as among the 100 most influential photographs in history.
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