While ghouls and goblins may provide the ghastly delights many of us associate with this time of year, NASA has just released a series of spooky space-themed posters that are more unearthly than any monsters or scary stories told around terrestrial campfires. This year for Halloween, the space agency has released a series of spine-tingling posters called Galaxy of Horrors. The terrifying destinations highlighted within are all based on real locations in the Universe.
The posters reveal the mind-bending and extreme nature of a macabre menagerie of extraterrestrial locales. Take the bone-chilling example titled Galactic Graveyard, for instance. The haunting artwork is inspired by Hubble Space Telescope observations of MACS 2129-1, a profoundly distant galaxy imaged with the help of gravitational lensing.
Gravitational lensing alone is an extreme enough phenomenon to warrant its own poster! When light from very remote sources passes near large gravitational fields, it is bent due to spacetime warping, as described in Einstein’s general relativity. This effect allows us to image galaxies that otherwise might be too dim to see.
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Of course, it takes a long time for light to travel this extraordinary distance across the Universe. This galaxy is so far away that we see it as it was just a few billion years after the big bang, like a high-school yearbook photo in galactic terms. Unlike our own Milky Way galaxy, which is still forming new stars, the Galactic Graveyard seems to have ceased new star formation. Blue, high-mass stars are an indicator of new star formation since these stars burn out in only a few million years. Blue stars are not seen in MACS 2129-1, however, indicating a lack of stellar births. As the poster proclaims, the Galactic Graveyard is old, red, and dead! The reason why star formation ceased in this galaxy remains yet another haunting cosmic mystery.
Another creepy crawly poster from the collection, which features arachnoid art that might make your skin crawl, is simply titled, Dark Matter. Spread throughout the Universe in a web-like structure, the matter that inspired this poster is invisible like a ghost or some kind of massive phantom. Dark matter pervades the Universe, connecting galaxies in megaparsec-long filaments and making up the vast majority of detectable matter. The poster also mentions the upcoming investigations into the matter by the Roman Space Telescope, an infrared telescope with a mirror the same size as Hubble’s, but with a field of view 100x greater. What secrets of the cosmos will be unlocked by this new telescopic explorer?
The Galaxy of Horrors has more than just posters, featuring several interactive components like the aptly named Monster Mash. Click on the ghoulish planet-eating face, and your device will transport you into a three-dimensional simulation of a real exoplanet system so extreme, it makes Jupiter look like a little lamb. Exoplanet WASP-12b, a planet nearly twice the diameter of Jupiter, is orbiting its parent star so closely that it is stretched, or mashed, into an egg shape. With an orbital period of just over a day, the planet will likely be torn to pieces by its parent star in a brief few million years.
Posters like this not only add to the horrifying decor of any sensibly festive office or home, they inspire a sense of fun and curiosity about the exploration of outer space and scientific discovery in a broader sense. They also can help give us a sense of comfort, knowing that no matter how difficult the year has been and how uncertain the future may seem, we are all better off than if we lived on HD 189733-b, where the Rains of Terror send shards of scorching hot glass through the air at over 8,600km/h.
All six posters are available for free for members of the public to download. The posters are also made available in Spanish, helping to spread the Universe’s festive frights to an even broader audience. Happy Halloween!