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Starts With A Bang

The 10 Scariest Places In The Universe, According To Science

These ten ghostly astronomical sights house some deep-and-frightening scientific truths within them.

With a huge suite of different observatories for viewing the Universe, innumerable details can be revealed.

This ‘Godzilla’ asterism is revealed by NASA’s Fermi satellite, which views the entire 360-degree sky in gamma rays. Godzilla may not be visible to your naked eye, but is recognized by NASA nonetheless.(NASA / FERMI TEAM)

Occasionally, what we find evokes terrifying feelings within us.

The ‘Ghost of Jupiter’ nebula has nothing to do with a planet at all, but is the infrared glow from a dying star as imaged by NASA’s Spitzer Space Observatory. (NASA/JPL-CALTECH/HARVARD-SMITHSONIAN CFA)

In the spirit of Halloween, here are the top 10 scariest sights the Universe has to offer.

The Bird, also known as the Tinker Bell triplet, is made of three colliding galaxies located 650 million light-years away. Three-galaxy mergers are rare, but this clearly looks like a winged fairy holding a Rambo/Terminator-style weapon. (ESO)

10.) Terminator Tinkerbell: these three colliding galaxies, ESO 593-IG 008, look like a glowing monstrosity in space.

This fiery swirl, known colloquially as the Eye of Sauron Nebula, is actually a planetary nebula known as ESO 456–67. The different gases and opacities translate into this stunning, multiwavelength view that looks right at you from across the galaxy. (ESA/HUBBLE AND NASA / ACKNOWLEDGMENT: JEAN-CHRISTOPHE LAMBRY)

9.) Eye of Sauron Nebula: emitted by a dying red giant star, it peers at us from 10,000 light-years away.

This view of the Halloween Asteroid, 2015 TB145, clearly showcases its rotating craters, which give it a skull-like appearance. It will make another close pass by Earth during November of 2018. (ARECIBO OBSERVATORY)

8.) Halloween asteroid: officially named 2015 TB145, this 650-meter-wide asteroid will make a close pass by Earth in just a few weeks.

The famous (or infamous) Face on Mars, as imaged in 1976 by NASA’s Viking 1 orbiter. Reminiscent of Han Solo frozen in carbonite, conspiracy theorists have claimed that this face is connected to a city of Martian ruins located nearby. Further imaging and analysis has shown them all to just be rock formations. (NASA / VIKING 1)

7.) Face on Mars: these eerie Martian rock formations look like faces in agony.

What appears to be a flaming space skull is really just the X-ray emission coming from the central region of the Perseus galaxy cluster. It’s still frightening, though. (A. FABIAN (IOA CAMBRIDGE) ET AL., NASA)

6.) X-ray skull: it’s just the Perseus galaxy cluster as seen in X-rays. How terrifying!

These giant, glowing eyes make up the most striking feature of the Ghost Head Nebula, but are produced by different processes. The glowing blobs of hydrogen and oxygen are produced by a single bright star (left) and by a series of dusty, covered stars (right) for the two eyes. (ESA, NASA, & MOHAMMAD HEYDARI-MALAYERI (OBSERVATOIRE DE PARIS, FRANCE))

5.) Ghost Head Nebula: the “glowing eyes” 168,000 light-years away are produced by newly-formed massive stars.

A young, high-velocity star lights up the interstellar gas nearby, revealing a shape that looks like a crouching gargoyle lying in wait. The nebula is officially known as IRAS 05437+2502, and was discovered back in the 1980s. (ESA/HUBBLE, R. SAHAI AND NASA)

4.) Crouching Gargoyle: allegedly, IRAS 05437+2502 is just a scary-looking cloud of interstellar gas.

Nebula NGC 246 is better known as the Skull Nebula, for the presence of its two glowing eyes. The central eye is actually a pair of binary stars, and the smaller, fainter one is responsible for the nebula itself, as it blows off its outer layers. It’s only 1,600 light-years away, in the constellation of Cetus. (GEMINI SOUTH GMOS, TRAVIS RECTOR (UNIV. ALASKA))

3.) Skull Nebula: the fainter, central star is dying, responsible for the gaseous outline surrounding the glowing stars.

The blue hand is actually X-ray emitting gas coming out of a central pulsar, whose winds superheat the surrounding gas and cause it to emit X-rays. The hand shape is a cosmic coincidence, and the red, ghostly wisps at the fingertips are simply a nearby gas cloud, RCW 89, that also gets heated by the pulsar winds. (NASA/CXC/SAO/P.SLANE, ET AL.)

2.) Hand of God: pulsar winds create this phantasmal, gripping sight.

Look out, Magic: The Gathering fans! Your opponent just played Demonic Hordes! Oh, no, it’s just the reflection nebula Sharpless 2–136, known as the Ghost Nebula for obvious reasons. (ADAM BLOCK/MOUNT LEMMON SKYCENTER/UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA)

1.) Ghost Nebula: the dark nebula SH2–136 showcases demonic silhouettes against a glittering, stellar backdrop.

Hubble has photographed the Ghost Nebula, which has eerie, semi-transparent flowing veils of gas and dust. The creepy-looking nebula is located 550 light-years away in the constellation Cassiopeia. (ESA/HUBBLE, NASA)

Mostly Mute Monday showcases a scientific story about the Universe in images, visuals, and no more than 200 words. Talk less; smile more.

Ethan Siegel is the author of Beyond the Galaxy and Treknology. You can pre-order his third book, currently in development: the Encyclopaedia Cosmologica.


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