Halloween is just around the corner, so NASA already kicked off the festivities with a Throwback-Thursday photo from the Hubble Space Telescope.
Taking a cue from the European Southern Observatory — which yesterday unveiled a jaw-dropping photo of the (in)famous Skull and Crossbones Nebula, as reported by the Inquisitr — the U.S. space agency took to Twitter to share a ghostly image ahead of Halloween.
The snapshot was taken by Hubble in August, 2016, and portrays a stunning nebula known as “the Ghost of Cassiopeia.” Found a mere 550 light-years away from Earth, the Ghost Nebula haunts the northern constellation of Cassiopeia.
This constellation is named after the queen of Greek mythology, and is easily recognizable by its “W” shape, notes EurekAlert.
“Just in time for Halloween: Hubble captured an eerie figure among the stars, comprised of long, flowing veils of gas and dust. ‘The Ghost of Cassiopeia’ is a nebula glowing with ultraviolet radiation from a nearby star. Look closer — if you dare!” NASA tweeted a few hours ago.
Officially dubbed IC 63, this spooky — yet undeniably fascinating — nebula is often described as a celestial ghost for two main reasons.
Firstly, its ethereal beauty conjures images of ghostly apparitions, sending chills down the bravest of spines.
Secondly, “the Ghost of Cassiopeia” is constantly under attack by its neighboring star, dubbed Gamma Cassiopeiae. Although it is located several light-years away, the seething star — a blue giant which “unleashes as much energy as 34,000 suns,” notes NASA — blasts the nebula with a torrent of radiation, slowly eating away at its delicate clouds of hydrogen.
This turns IC 63 into a metaphor of its own destiny; a veritable celestial ghost floating in the northern sky.
The Hubble photo captures IC 63’s ethereal glow, revealing a dazzling view of the Ghost Nebula.
“This Hubble Space Telescope view zooms in on the creepy-looking top of the nebula, [showing that] material is swept away from it, forming a fantail shape,” states the Hubble Site.
The image showcases the nebula’s semitransparent veils, which shine in hues of red and blue. As NASA, explains, the nebula owes its red glimmer to the virulent charge of Gamma Cassiopeiae.
The star bombards the hydrogen in IC 63 with ultraviolet radiation, setting the Ghost Nebula aglow in flaming shades of red. Meanwhile, the blue color visible in the Hubble snapshot is produced by the light reflected off of the nebula’s dust.
“This etching process sculpts a fantasy landscape where human imagination can see all kinds of shapes and figures,” points out the Hubble Site.
“Boo! Very scary ghost galaxy. From Hubble, for Halloween,” retired astronaut Chris Hadfield wrote on Twitter earlier today.
But not all sightings of the Ghost Nebula are equally chilling. For instance, this 2010 image captured by the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter Observatory offers a more serene view of the troubled nebula.
The Cassiopeia constellation is also a sight to behold, according to NASA.
“Its distinctive ‘W’ asterism, which forms the queen’s throne, is best seen high in the sky on autumn and winter evenings,” notes the space agency.
Star gazers are often treated to memorable sightings of Gamma Cassiopeiae as well. This is the middle star in the “W” of the constellation and is visible to the naked eye. However, only a large telescope is able to reveal the Ghost Nebula.