Lord Rosse's drawings of M1, the Crab Nebula

[M1 'Crab', Lord Rosse]

Drawing of the Crab Nebula by William Parsons, the Third Earl of Rosse. This drawing gave rise to the name "Crab Nebula". It was created using the 36-inch reflector at Birr Castle about 1844. On the basis of this observation, Lord Rosse gave the following description:

".. 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."
Obviously, the Earl had mistaken the filaments he saw as indications for resovability!

In 1848, Lord Rosse re-observed this object with the 72-inch reflector, and saw a remarkably different picture, which was represented in a new drawing in 1855 by R.J. Mitchell - this second picture was approved as "the best representation" of this object by his son, Laurence Parsons, the Fourth Earl of Rosse.

  • More drawings by Lord Rosse

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    Christine Kronberg

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    Last Modification: August 6, 2000