After kick-starting the Halloween festivities with a haunting photo of the “Ghost of Cassiopeia,” as the Inquisitr reported last week, NASA rises to the occasion once more with another celestial portrait that will definitely put a spell on you.
The latest Halloween photo shared by the space agency depicts a peculiar nebula colloquially known as the Witch Head, so named because — you’ve guessed it — it bears an uncanny resemblance to a fairytale crone.
Scientifically dubbed IC 2118, this intriguing nebula lies some 800 light-years away from Earth in the Orion constellation and is located just off the hunter’s knee, notes NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California — which yesterday shared a spectacular photo of the Witch Head Nebula.
“By starlight this eerie visage shines in the dark, a crooked profile evoking its popular name,” NASA officials wrote earlier this year when the space agency released another memorable photo of the Witch Head Nebula.
This latest snapshot was taken by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) and showcases the nebula glowing in stunning shades of green — channeling the Wicked Witch of the West from the beloved 1939 fantasy movie The Wizard of Oz.
However, in reality, the Witch Head Nebula is actually sparkling blue — a color given to it by the neighboring star Rigel, the brightest star in the Orion constellation.
“Hello my pretty! Even nebulas [sic] dress up for Halloween. This one, imaged by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), is a wicked witch,” JPL tweeted a few hours ago.
The reason why the Witch Head Nebula is portrayed in hues of green in the WISE snapshot is because the spacecraft imaged its billowing clouds of interstellar gas and dust in infrared light. The WISE detectors picked up the infrared light emitted by its dust clouds just as Rigel flooded the nebula with starlight, illuminating it from behind.
This fascinating nebula is home to a myriad of newborn stars, which also set it aglow as they themselves are lit up by massive stars.
The same WISE photo of the enchanting nebula was shared on Twitter by NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory, along with a witty caption echoing the “Song of the Witches” from Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
“Double, double, toil and trouble, the Witch’s Head is not so subtle! Bewitching nebula in a cauldron of star light, brewing new baby stars this Halloween night!”
Meanwhile, the true color of the nebula is blue — “caused not only by Rigel’s intense blue starlight, but also because the dust grains scatter blue light more efficiently than red,” explains NASA. “The same physical process causes Earth’s daytime sky to appear blue.”
The image below, unveiled by the space agency in 2008, captures the true face of the celestial witch, glowing blue in the starlight reflected from Rigel.