We’ve written often about how pareidolia — the human tendency to see faces or other features in random images — works its magic across the cosmos. There’s the famous face on Mars, Bigfoot on Mars, and even Han Solo on Mercury.
But now, just in time for Halloween, here’s a monster in a picture from the Spitzer Space Telescope. One astronomer sees Godzilla … or is it Cookie Monster?
Caltech astronomer Robert Hurt has processed many of the images from the now retired Spitzer telescope, and he spotted what he thought looked like Godzilla in this image of a nebula.
“I wasn’t looking for monsters,” he said. “I just happened to glance at a region of sky that I’ve browsed many times before, but I’d never zoomed in on. Sometimes if you just crop an area differently, it brings out something that you didn’t see before. It was the eyes and mouth that roared ‘Godzilla’ to me.”
Spitzer, which was retired in 2020, used infrared to view many objects in the universe, but was particularly good at finding nebulae that were too cold to radiate visible light, or those that were hidden behind dust clouds. Therefore, this isn’t the first time “spooky” things have been found in Spitzer images: other scientists have spied a black widow spider, a Jack-o-Lantern, a snake, an exposed human brain, and the Starship Enterprise, among other things.
NASA says this nebula is located is in the constellation Sagittarius, along the plane of the Milky Way. It was imaged by Spitzer as part of the GLIMPSE Survey (short for Galactic Legacy Infrared Mid-Plane Survey Extraordinaire). Stars in the upper right (where this cosmic Godzilla’s eyes and snout would be) are an unknown distance from Earth but within our galaxy. Located about 7,800 light-years from Earth, the bright region in the lower left (Godzilla’s right hand) is known as W33.
If you like both astronomy and art, check out this Spitzer Artistronomy web app, which features drawing tools and pictures of nine nebulae captured by Spitzer, so users can illustrate their own visions of cosmic creatures.
You can see all of the data and images collected by Spitzer during its lifetime at the Spitzer data archive. Maybe you’ll find your own spooky views!