Messier 1

Better known as the Crab Nebula, Charles Messier originally mistook Messier 1 for Halley’s Comet, which inspired him to create his famous catalog of objects.


6,500 light-years

Apparent Magnitude




object type

Planetary Nebula

Crab Nebula
The Crab Nebula is an expanding remnant of a star's supernova explosion. Japanese and Chinese astronomers recorded this violent event nearly 1,000 years ago in 1054 AD, as likely did the Native Americans. The glowing relic has been expanding since the star exploded, and it is now approximately 11 light-years in width.
NASA, ESA, J. Hester and A. Loll (Arizona State University)

In 1054, Chinese astronomers took notice of a “guest star” that was, for nearly a month, visible in the daytime sky. The “guest star” they observed was actually a supernova explosion, which gave rise to the Crab Nebula, a six-light-year-wide remnant of the violent event.

core of M1
Peering deep into M1, this spectacular Hubble image captures the nebula’s beating heart: the rapidly spinning pulsar at its core. Bright wisps are moving outward from the pulsar (the rightmost of the two bright stars near the center of the image) at half the speed of light to form an expanding ring. These wisps form along magnetic field lines in a gas of extremely energetic particles driven into space by the highly magnetized, rapidly rotating neutron star.
NASA and ESA; Acknowledgment: J. Hester (ASU) and M. Weisskopf (NASA/MSFC)
Time-lapse observations of M1 from Hubble exposures
This time-lapse movie of M1 was created from a series of 10 Hubble exposures. It reveals wave-like rings expanding outward from the nebula’s pulsar (the bright object just below the center of the image).
NASA and ESA; Acknowledgment: J. Hester (Arizona State University)

With an apparent magnitude of 8.4 and located 6,500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Taurus, the Crab Nebula can be spotted with a small telescope and is best observed in January. The nebula was discovered by English astronomer John Bevis in 1731, and later observed by Charles Messier who mistook it for Halley’s Comet. Messier’s observation of the nebula inspired him to create a catalog of celestial objects that might be mistaken for comets.

This large mosaic of the Crab Nebula was assembled from 24 individual exposures captured by Hubble over three months. The colors in this image do not match exactly what we would see with our eyes but yield insight into the composition of this spectacular stellar corpse. The orange filaments are the tattered remains of the star and consist mostly of hydrogen. The blue in the filaments in the outer part of the nebula represents neutral oxygen. Green is singly ionized sulfur, and red indicates doubly ionized oxygen. These elements were expelled during the supernova explosion.

A rapidly spinning neutron star (the ultra-dense core of the exploded star) is embedded in the center of the Crab Nebula. Electrons whirling at nearly the speed of light around the star’s magnetic field lines produce the eerie blue light in the interior of the nebula. The neutron star, like a lighthouse, ejects twin beams of radiation that make it appear to pulse 30 times per second as it rotates.

For more information about Hubble’s observations of M1, see:

M1 star chart
This star chart for M1 represents the view from mid-northern latitudes for the given month and time.
Image courtesy of Stellarium

Explore Hubble's Messier Catalog

The following pages contain some of Hubble’s best images of Messier objects.

A Hubble image of a ball of thousands of stars

Messier 2

Hubble's image of Messier 2 is comprised of visible and infrared wavelengths of light.

Hubble view of M3 - a ball of thousands of stars.

Messier 3

Messier 3 holds more than 500,000 stars.