Published October 31, 2013
Several spooky and spectacular celestial sights are showcased in new space photos, just in time for Halloween.
One new image, from the University of Arizona's Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter (MLSC), depicts the dazzling Wizard Nebula, which surrounds an open star cluster 8,000 light-years from Earth called NGC 7380.
"In this orientation, I doubt you will see the wizard, but there is still something very mysterious about the sculpted ridges of gas and dust that give this nebula a Halloween feel (I see bat-like appendages)," Adam Block, manager of public observing programs at MLSC, told SPACE.com via email. [The Spookiest Nebula Photos of All Time (Gallery)]
The Wizard Nebula lies in the direction of the constellation Cepheus and can be seen with a small telescope.
"The active star-forming region spans about 100 light-years, making it appear larger than the angular extent of the moon," NASA officials wrote in a description of the nebula and NGC 7380 two years ago. "Although the nebula may last only a few million years, some of the stars being formed may outlive our sun."
The other image, taken by astrophotographer Fred Herrmann, captures the stunning nebula NGC 6960, dubbed the "Witch's Broom." It's part of the Veil Nebula supernova remnant, which was created when a massive star exploded about 9,000 years ago.
"Today this large (36 times the area of the full moon) but dim remnant is only visible using a telescope and sensitive electronics," Herrmann told SPACE.com via email. "The 'Witch’s Broom' portion of the Veil spans about 35 light-years and is about 1,500 light-years distant in the constellation Cygnus. The bright star at its center is 52 Cygni. Although this star appears very bright in the image, it is only visible with the unaided eye from a dark location."
And a witch appears to be screaming out into space in a new image from NASA's Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE. The infrared portrait shows the Witch Head nebula, named after its resemblance to the profile of a wicked witch. Astronomers say the billowy clouds of the nebula, where baby stars are brewing, are being lit up by massive stars. Dust in the cloud is being hit with starlight, causing it to glow with infrared light, which was picked up by WISE's detectors.
The Witch Head nebula is estimated to be hundreds of light-years away in the Orion constellation, just off the famous hunter's knee.