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Crab Nebula Drawing - by William Parsons

Crab Nebula Drawing - by William Parsons Education Astronomy Aviation & Space Exploration STEM Tragedies and Triumphs

Around 1844, William Parsons—also known as the 3rd Earl of Rosse—saw something in the sky which attracted his attention.  His sketch, which looks something like a crab, is depicted in this image.

Lord Rosse’s drawing gave rise to the name of what he observed: Crab Nebula (also known as M1).

How was Parsons able to get this type of detail?  He made his observations via a 36-inch reflector at Birr Castle.  He described what he saw with these words:

... a cluster; we perceive in this [36-inch telescope], however, a considerable change of appearance; it is no longer an oval resolvable [mottled] Nebula; we see resolvable filaments singularly disposed, springing principally from its southern extremity, and not, as is usual in clusters, irregularly in all directions.

Probably greater power would bring out other filaments, and it would then assume the ordinary form of a cluster. It is stubbed with stars, mixed however with a nebulosity probably consisting of stars too minute to be recognized.

It is an easy object, and I have shown it to many, and all have been at once struck with its remarkable aspect. Everything in the sketch can be seen under moderately favourable circumstances.  (See The Scientific Papers of William Parsons, Third Earl of Rosse 1800-1867, by William Parsons, at page 106.)

Four years later, Lord Rosse observed the Crab Nebula again, this time using a 72-inch reflector.  What he saw then was quite different from what he had observed before and, in 1855, R.J. Mitchell created a drawing of those observations.


Media Credits

Image, described above, included (among other places) as Figure 81 in The Scientific Papers of William Parsons, Third Earl of Rosse 1800-1867, by William Parsons, facing page 106.  Online via Google Books.

 

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