Just in time for Halloween, NASA has just released this image of a spooky face appearing in Earth's stratosphere.
The menacing face shape was spotted by two NASA scientists, Lawrence Coy and Steven Pawson, at Goddard Space Flight Center. When they’re not busy crunching data on Earth’s atmosphere, they have a habit of documenting all the different face shapes that appear in their models of Earth.
NASA Earth Observatory shared one of their discoveries on October 31 as their Image of the Day, although it actually comes from data captured in January 1982 showing wind and temperature data over the North Pole.
“The best time to find faces is in the winter in the polar regions of the northern hemisphere,” Pawson said in a statement. “That’s when the dark conditions of the ‘polar night’ lead to a ring of westerly winds in the stratosphere that atmospheric scientists have long called the stratospheric polar vortex or circumpolar vortex.”
“Finding these never gets old, and it’s a fun way to get people to think about the stratosphere and our data assimilation models,” he added. “It’s also a good way to highlight year-to-year differences in the stratosphere.”
Faces like this can be seen in all kinds of images thanks to pareidolia, the tendency for humans to perceive a meaningful image in an ambiguous visual pattern. It’s the same reason why clouds often take on a familiar shape or why people on the Internet are seemingly always spotting strange things in images of the Martian surface.
Just last week, NASA shared a shot of the Sun looking like a cheeky-faced smiling Emoji. Captured in ultraviolet light, the darker patches are called coronal holes and are formed in the solar corona, the outermost layer of the Sun's atmosphere. The patches appear darker because they are cooler and less dense than the surrounding areas. Either that or the Sun knows something we don't and is grinning like a maniac.