In time for Halloween, we scoured NASA’s archives for spooky images of celestial wonders. A spider crawling the skies, a witch cackling into the cosmos, an apparition rising from the darkness are all seen in these haunting images. And yes, we are fully aware that pareidolia—“the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful, image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern"—is going on here. View them if you dare.
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, P. Kalas and J. Graham (University of California, Berkeley) and M. Clampin (NASA/GSFC)
HR 4796 Binary Star System
The Eye of Sauron? It certainly looks like a depiction of the Lord of the Ring's lidless eye wreathed in flame. But, in fact, it is an image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope of a dusty ring around the star Fomalhaut, HR 4796's primary star. The disk of debris is around 14 to 20 billion miles away from the young star.
“Concealed within his fortress, the lord of Mordor sees all. His gaze pierces cloud, shadow, earth, and flesh.” - J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Wisc.
Black Widow Nebula
A blood-red spider spinning a galactic web or, more likely, a cloud teeming with forming stars. Radiation and strong stellar winds are blowing gas and dust into the direction of least resistance, forming what looks like the cosmic crawler’s legs.
Nebula SH2 136
A phantom dance party? No, just cosmic dust visible from reflected starlight. “The core of the dark cloud on the right is collapsing and is likely a binary star system in the early stages of formation,” wrote a NASA official on their website.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/McGill
PSR B1509-58: Nicknamed "Hand of God"
A gnarled hand grasping for a ball of flame is actually a cloud of material ejected from a star that exploded. The stellar corpse is a pulsar that rapidly spins around, “firing out a particle wind into the material that’s around it.” NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) imaged the structure in high-energy X-rays (blue). Previous images of lower-energy X-ray light are represented in red and green.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Witch Head Nebula
The head of a witch shrieking into space can be seen in this image from NASA’s Wide-Field Survey Explorer (WISE). This wicked image captures baby stars beginning their stellar lives in clouds of dust being hit with starlight, thus causing it to glow with infrared light.
The Grim Reaper hurtling through space? No, this image is actually the center of the Lagoon Nebula with clouds formed by stellar winds and energetic starlight. The two funnel-shaped clouds are aprroximately half a light-year long.
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
An apparition rising from the dark depths of space? This image is the iconic Horsehead Nebula located in the constellation Orion. The nebula is a cold, dark cloud of dust located 1,500 light-years away. According to NASA, it is “one of the nearest and most easily photographed regions in which massive stars are being formed.”
To learn about how these cosmic images are colored, check out Hubble's "Behind the Pictures" article and video.