Wilson-Hodge C. A. , Cherry M. L. , Case G. L. , Baumgartner W. H. , Beklen E., Bhat P. N. , ...More

ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL LETTERS, vol.727, no.2, 2011 (Peer-Reviewed Journal) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 727 Issue: 2
  • Publication Date: 2011
  • Doi Number: 10.1088/2041-8205/727/2/l40
  • Journal Indexes: Science Citation Index Expanded, Scopus


The Crab Nebula is the only hard X-ray source in the sky that is both bright enough and steady enough to be easily used as a standard candle. As a result, it has been used as a normalization standard by most X-ray/gamma-ray telescopes. Although small-scale variations in the nebula are well known, since the start of science operations of the Fermi Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM) in 2008 August, a similar to 7% (70 mCrab) decline has been observed in the overall Crab Nebula flux in the 15-50 keV band, measured with the Earth occultation technique. This decline is independently confirmed in the similar to 15-50 keV band with three other instruments: the Swift Burst Alert Telescope (Swift/BAT), the Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer Proportional Counter Array (RXTE/PCA), and the Imager on-Board the INTEGRAL Satellite (IBIS). A similar decline is also observed in the similar to 3-15 keV data from the RXTE/PCA and in the 50-100 keV band with GBM, Swift/BAT, and INTEGRAL/IBIS. The pulsed flux measured with RXTE/PCA since 1999 is consistent with the pulsar spin-down, indicating that the observed changes are nebular. Correlated variations in the Crab Nebula flux on a similar to 3 year timescale are also seen independently with the PCA, BAT, and IBIS from 2005 to 2008, with a flux minimum in 2007 April. As of 2010 August, the current flux has declined below the 2007 minimum.