The x-ray crystallographic structure of the nucleosome core particle has been determined using 8 A resolution diffraction data. The particle has a mean diameter of 106 A and a maximum thickness of 65 A in the superhelical axis direction. The longest chord through the histone core measures 85 A and is in a non-axial direction. The 1.87 turn superhelix consists of B-DNA with about 78 base pairs or 7.6 helical repeats per superhelical turn. The mean DNA helical repeat contains 10.2 +/- 0.05 base pairs and spans 35 A, slightly more than standard B-DNA. The superhelix varies several Angstroms in radius and pitch, and has three distinct domains of curvature (with radii of curvature of 60, 45 and 51 A). These regions are separated by localized sharper bends +/- 10 and +/- 40 base pairs from the center of the particle, resulting in an overall radius of curvature about 43 A. Compression of superhelical DNA grooves on the inner surface and expansion on the outer surface can be seen throughout the DNA electron density. This density has been fit with a double helical ribbon model providing groove width estimates of 12 +/- 1 A inside vs. 19 +/- 1 A outside for the major groove, and 8 +/- 1 A inside vs. 13 +/- 1 A outside for the minor groove. The histone core is primarily contained within the bounds defined by the superhelical DNA, contacting the DNA where the phosphate backbone faces in toward the core. Possible extensions of density between the gyres have been located, but these are below the significance level of the electron density map. In cross-section, a tripartite organization of the histone octamer is apparent, with the tetramer occupying the central region and the dimers at the extremes. Several extensions of histone density are present which form contacts between nucleosomes in the crystal, perhaps representing flexible or "tail" histone regions. The radius of gyration of the histone portion of the electron density is calculated to be 30.4 A (in reasonable agreement with solution scattering values), and the histone core volume in the map is 93% of its theoretical volume.