New NASA Posters Feature Cosmic Frights for Halloween

These NASA posters put an artistic spin on real cosmic phenomena. Done in the style of scary movie advertisements, they are free to download. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Depicting some of the Universe’s most mysterious astronomical phenomena with artistic flairs, NASA has released its latest Galaxy of Horrors posters just in time for Halloween. Presented in the style of vintage horror movie advertisements, the new posters feature a dead galaxy, an explosive gamma ray burst caused by colliding stellar corpses, and ever-elusive dark matter.

As fun and creative as all three posters are, they’re based on real phenomena. In a dead galaxy, new star birth has ceased and most remaining stars are the long-lived variety, which are small and red, giving the galaxy a crimson glow. Likewise, when dead stars collide, they sometimes create a gamma ray burst, one of the most energetic explosions in the universe. And while dark matter may sound like it’s right out of a Halloween tale, its gravity keeps stars inside galaxies and holds groups of galaxies together in clusters – yet scientists don’t know what this invisible stuff is made of.

This chillingly haunted galaxy mysteriously stopped making stars only a few billion years after the Big Bang! It became a cosmic cemetery, illuminated by the red glow of decaying stars. Dare to enter, and you might encounter the frightening corpses of exoplanets or the final death throes of once-mighty stars. Credit: NASA-JPL/Caltech

“One of the things I really like about these posters is that if you spend some time studying the art and then maybe go learn a little more about each of these topics, you’ll see there was a lot of thought by the artists about the choices they made to highlight the science,” said Jason Rhodes, an astrophysicist at JPL who consulted on the project.

Something strange and mysterious creeps throughout the cosmos. Scientists call it dark matter. It is scattered in an intricate web that forms the skeleton of our universe. Dark matter is invisible, only revealing its presence by pushing and pulling on objects we can see. NASA’s Roman Space Telescope will investigate its secrets. What will be revealed? Credit: NASA-JPL/Caltech

Take that dark matter poster, which carries the tagline “Something Else Is Out There.” The massive spider seen crawling across the sky on a glowing web is pure fiction, but the concept alludes to something called the cosmic web, which is the large-scale organization of matter and dark matter in the universe: Thin filaments of normal matter and dark matter connect clusters of galaxies, like roadways between major cities. In fact, scientific visualizations of the cosmic web look similar to the spider web featured in the poster.

In the depths of the universe, the cores of two collapsed stars violently merge to release a burst of the deadliest and most powerful form of light, known as gamma rays. These beams of doom are unleashed upon their unfortunate surroundings, shining a million trillion times brighter than the Sun for up to 30 terrifying seconds. No spaceship will shield you from the blinding destruction of the gamma ray ghouls! Credit: NASA-JPL/Caltech

Similarly, the two narrow energy beams seen in the gamma ray burst poster reflect how they occur in real life, traveling in opposite directions from the colliding stellar corpses. The bursts are so intense that if such an event occurred “close” to the Earth, causing a beam to fire directly at our planet, the radiation and particles could do harm.

But the rarity of these events makes that extremely unlikely, according Judy Racusin, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center who also consulted on the posters. In fact, astronomers estimate that a gamma ray burst goes off in our galaxy only about once every 10,000 years, but they are visible to us only about every 10,000,000 to 100,000,000 years. Even then, one of these events wouldn’t necessarily pose a threat to our planet.

And while gamma ray bursts are real, the space travelers observing the event in the Galaxy of Horrors image are, of course, the product of creative license. “The poster art is a really fun way to imagine one of these happening,” said Racusin. “But I wouldn’t want to be those space travelers!”

Also available are three other Galaxy of Horrors posters: Flares of Fury, Zombie Worlds and Rains of Terror.

Located less than 32 light-years from Earth, AU Microscopii is among the youngest planetary systems ever observed by astronomers, and its star throws vicious temper tantrums! You’ve heard of the “terrible twos”? Well, AU Mic is in the midst of its terrible 22 … millions! This devilish young system holds planet AU Mic b captive inside a looming disk of ghostly dust and ceaselessly torments it with deadly blasts of X-rays and other radiation, thwarting any chance of life… as we know it! Beware! There is no escaping the stellar fury of this system. The monstrous flares of AU Mic will have you begging for eternal darkness. Credit: NASA-JPL/Caltech
These doomed worlds were among the first and creepiest to be discovered as they orbit an undead star known as a pulsar. Pulsar planets like Poltergeist and its neighboring worlds, Phobetor and Draugr, are consumed with constant radiation from the star’s core. Nothing but the undead can subsist in this most inhospitable corner of the galaxy. Credit: NASA-JPL/Caltech
This far-off blue planet may look like a friendly haven – but don’t be deceived! Weather here is deadly. The planet’s cobalt blue color comes from a hazy, blow-torched atmosphere containing clouds laced with glass. Howling winds send the storming glass sideways at 5,400 mph (2km/s), whipping all in a sickening spiral. It’s death by a million cuts on this slasher planet! Credit: NASA-JPL/Caltech

To learn more about these posters and download both the Spanish and English versions for free, visit the Galaxy of Horrors webpage:

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