Spooky Space

Nov 1, 2021 | Asteroids, Daily Space, Nebulae, Science, Stars, Supernovae

We’re going to look at some weird images that NASA and other space agencies have labeled as “spooky”. Since at least 2003, when I became a journalist, these everyday objects have been processed, cropped, and released for Halloween just to give everyone a bit of space to go with their candy.

Our first image is titled the “Ghost hand of God”. Coming to us from NASA/JPLCaltech and artist Kevin M. Gill, this weird structure is related to a past supernova that is shocking the gases. While not as shocking as some of our Halloween treats, this image gets 11 out of 10 for actually looking like a disembodied hand.

The hot, x-ray emitting gas of many different structures can trigger pareidolia – that way our brain has of seeing faces and other familiar things, like hands, where there absolutely are not actually hands or faces. Viewed with the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the normally picturesque Perseus Cluster appears to be screaming or moaning. Either way, it seems to be having a really bad day.

Brains are weird. We’re really good at seeing patterns that aren’t actually there. While it was once definitely better to see enemies that weren’t actually there instead of missing the ones that were there, I’m not sure how useful it is to see ghosts in a dark nebula, but here you go — ghosts in a dark nebula. These arm-waving figures appear to be part of SH2-136, a cloud in Cepheus that is gearing up to one day become stars.

And it wouldn’t be Halloween without a few skulls. Or in this case, an asteroid that looks rather like a skull when radar-imaged by the Arecibo Observatory. Hello, 2015 TB145. I really want to know why you aren’t yet named Yorick.

Ghosts, skulls… we just needed a witch to round out our set of decorations, and the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer was here to provide. This is the Witch Head Nebula. I hope Dorothy lets this green-skinned glory continue to cackle for millions of years to come.

Mummies! We almost forgot the mummies. While many people see a face in this Viking 1 image of Mars, I will always see the lid of a mountain-sized sarcophagus. Luckily, there is no actual mummy behind this mask. This is just a trick of the light and the low-resolution camera. Future missions found this feature to be a fairly boring outcrop.

With all the major players accounted for, it’s time for a bit of decoration. How about a spider to creep out your night? I have to admit, this is pretty much the only kind of spider I can deal with. This is the Black Widow Nebula, a star-forming region about 10,000 light-years away.

We have to give a shout-out to Space.com for compiling a list of these images. While our commentary is our own, they saved us a great deal of Googling to find the ghouls from the past. We do have a new image to add to this list, however: a pumpkin. This is actually a dying star, CW Leonis, that was imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope.

More Information

These Scary Things in Space Will Haunt Your Dreams (Space.com)

Hubble press release


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