The Halloween-Themed Universe

I did a short presentation last night for a group of families at a Halloween event.  My job was to talk space but make it as spooky as possible and use some Halloween themes for the kids.  There really is a fine line between teaching Science and being entertaining, but here’s some of the things I did.

Lets start with the following image….What does this look like to you?

Yes it's a nebula
Yes it’s a nebula

Did you say the head of a witch? Then yes you are right! This is known as the Witch Head Nebula. A nebula is a place where gas and dust in the Galaxy get dense enough to form stars.  Once these stars form their light shines on the gas, heating it up, and causing it to reflect starlight or emit light in infrared.  We end up seeing shapes light the one above here on Earth.  Add in our natural knack for pattern recognition, and BAM, you’ve got a Witch’s Head.  In the case of the Witch Head Nebula, it is believed to be a supernova remnant 900 light years awayin the constellation Eridanus, illuminated by the star Rigel in Orion.

Our next spooky space curiosity is a picture released by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO).  What does this one look like?

Credit: NASA/SDO
Credit: NASA/SDO

If you said its the Sun, then Bravo, you have figured out the easy part of the question.  The hard part is that the active regions on the Sun at the particular time this image was taken makes it look like….


A Jack-O-Lantern!

The Sun is a turbulent place.  If you look back about a week to my article on the Sun’s activity, you’ll know that Sunspots vary in intensity and number on an 11-year cycle.  At the time and angle this photo was taken, the Sunspots gave us just the right features to trigger our brain’s pattern recognition pattern, telling us that yes this looks like a carved pumpkin.

The last object of curiosity is the following….What are we looking at?

That’s no moon…. Credit: Science@NASA

Every time I see a picture of Saturn’s moon Mimas, I hear the empire’s theme from Star Wars.  That’s because of the joke that’s been running through Astronomy since the Star Wars movies came out (Mimas was discovered in 1789, so the moon came first).

Which one is the moon?

Yes Mimas resembles the Death Star.  It is known to have a very distinct temperature pattern.

Credit: Science@NASA

If this is not evidence that Mimas contains a Space Station, then I will be very surprised……

Happy Halloween!


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