Space isn't all about happy twinkly stars. There are plenty of scary sights out in the darkness in the form of ghostly nebulae, gaping sunspots and a distant moon that looks like the Death Star.
NASA got into the Halloween mood in 2014 by releasing this fortuitous Solar Dynamics Observatory image of the sun showing a grinning jack-o'-lantern face. A series of active regions on the sun make it look like a cosmic pumpkin carving took place on our closest star.
Originally published Oct. 29, 2015. Update, Oct. 28, 2019: Adds more spooky space shots.
The European Southern Observatory released a look at a star-forming region named NGC 2467 in October 2018. It's better known as the Skull and Crossbones Nebula thanks to its spooky face-like appearance.
"It is not, in fact, a single nebula, and its constituent stellar clusters are moving at different velocities," ESO said. It's just a creepy coincidence that it resembles a wide-eyed skull.
NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter got an eyeful of "spiders" in 2018 when it looked down and spotted these wild surface formations. The technical name for these is "araneiforms," but they're better known as just spiders.
Published:Caption:Amanda KooserPhoto:NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
Bat Shadow in the Serpens Nebula
NASA and ESA's Hubble Space Telescope team shared this evocative view of the Serpens Nebula on Halloween in 2018. It showcases a set of cone-like shadows known as the Bat Shadow in the upper right. They look like a bat's extended wings.
This creepy-crawly formation in space might look like a spider, but it's actually a nebula. Known as the Black Widow Nebula, it's formed from two bubbles and acts as a nursery for baby stars. The fat body makes it look more like a jumping spider, but the Black Widow name gives it an air of danger.
Published:Caption:Amanda KooserPhoto:NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Wisc.
Eye of a typhoon
Astronauts on the International Space Station looked down in March 2015 and saw this awe-inspiring view of Typhoon Maysak as it worked its way into a Category 5 storm.
European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti captured the over-the-top look at the eye of the storm. The raw power of the formation is visible even from the safe distance of space. Rain and lightning hid beneath the cloud swirl.
In mid-2014, the Internet got very excited about the discovery of what looked a lot like a thigh bone on Mars. NASA was quick to explain that the star of the photo is just a rock shaped by erosion caused by wind or water. Sorry, folks, there is no secret alien burial ground on Mars.
No, this isn't a still from "Paranormal Activity 20: Spooks in Space." European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst took this image as part of a photo series showing the International Space Station at night. The empty space suits with covers over the helmets look like a good start to a horror film.
Looking at nebulae in space is a lot like looking at passing cloud formations and deciding what objects they remind you of. The Witch Head Nebula got its popular name due to its resemblance to a supernatural magic-making woman's face. There's a pointy noise and an equally pointy chin jutting out from the bottom. It gets its glow from light reflected from the star Rigel. Stare at it for too long and it might cast a space spell on you.
NASA scientists looked at Jupiter, and Jupiter looked right back. This Hubble space telescope image from 2014 shows a dark pupil in the middle of an "eye" on the large planet. The black circle is actually the shadow of the moon Ganymede, but the timing of the photo was perfect for turning Jupiter into a space cyclops.
Published:Caption:Amanda KooserPhoto:NASA/ESA/A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center)
A ghostly figure appears
A dark human-like shape emerges from a ghostly nebula in this Hubble image. The nebula is officially known as NGC 1999 and it gets its bluish color from reflected starlight. "The ominous dark nebula is actually a condensation of cold molecular gas and dust so thick and dense that it blocks light," NASA noted.
Published:Caption:Amanda KooserPhoto:Hubble Heritage Team (STScI) and NASA
Face on Mars
Mars surface formations don't get more famous than the face on Mars. NASA's Viking 1 Orbiter took the original image in 1976. It showed a mound with what looked like two eyes, a nose, a mouth and an interesting hairdo. Alien theorists got excited about the possibility of a monument on Mars.
NASA's Mars Global Surveyor revisited the freaky formation in 2001. A higher-resolution image revealed the face was really just a funky mound of surface material.
A pulsar lurks at the center of this 2009 image from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. "The pulsar is a rapidly spinning neutron star which is spewing energy out into the space around it to create complex and intriguing structures, including one that resembles a large cosmic hand," NASA notes. The disembodied phantom-like hand looks to be grasping at the void.
Published:Caption:Amanda KooserPhoto:NASA/CXC/SAO/P.Slane, et al.
Gaping maw of a sunspot
The sun is an active place with filaments, holes and flares constantly shifting across its face. This is a close-up look at a dramatic sunspot as seen by the Big Bear Solar Observatory's telescope in 2010. It might remind you of staring into the gaping toothy mouth of the sarlacc pit from Star Wars. Don't worry. It won't eat the Earth. This sunspot is long gone now.
Published:Caption:Amanda KooserPhoto:Big Bear Solar Observatory/NJIT
Phantom clouds in the darkness
Nebula IRAS 05437+2502 doesn't have a very catchy name, but it certainly looks like a frightening formation in space. Stare at it long enough and you might see a phantom rise up from the back of the dust clouds. NASA and ESA's Hubble Space Telescope took this image in 2010. Scientists are unsure what causes the bright glowing arc near the center.
Published:Caption:Amanda KooserPhoto:ESA, Hubble, R. Sahai (JPL), NASA
Death Star near Saturn
Saturn has over 60 moons, but none of them resemble a deadly Star Wars spacecraft quite like Mimas does. Mimas earned the "Death Star moon" nickname thanks to a large round crater that looks like the superlaser focus lens on Darth Vader's spacecraft. This clear view of Mimas came from NASA's Cassini spacecraft during a close fly-by of the moon in 2010.
Planetary nebula NGC 246 has a much more Halloween-y nickname: "The Skull Nebula." It's located 1,600 light-years away and surrounds a dying star. It may take an active imagination to see a skull, but it is most definitely a ghostly looking galactic creation.
Published:Caption:Amanda KooserPhoto:Gemini South GMOS, Travis Rector (Univ. Alaska)
Eye of Sauron?
This might look like the Eye of Sauron from "Lord of the Rings," but it's actually a Hubble Space Telescope image showing a planet called Fomalhaut b orbiting a star. This is "the first visible-light snapshot of a planet circling another star," NASA said in a 2008 release on the discovery.
On Halloween in 2015, a spooky asteroid passed harmlessly by Earth, but it left a lasting impression thanks to its skull-like appearance in radar imagery. This GIF shows the asteroid turning in space. Note the dark areas that look like two hollow eyes.
The Tarantula Nebula gets its name from what the European Space Agency describes as "spindly, spidery filaments of gas." This Hubble Space Telescope image from 2017 shows the crawly nebula, but there's a guest star in the picture as well. The bubble-like Honeycomb Nebula appears in the lower left corner of the image.
NASA celebrated Halloween in 2016 with this spectral view of the Crab Nebula from the Hubble Space Telescope. A dead neutron star lies inside the wispy nebula. This led NASA to reference the classic Edgar Allan Poe story "The Tell-Tale Heart," a spooky tract about a murderer who can't stop hearing a dead man's heartbeat.
Published:Caption:Amanda KooserPhoto:NASA and ESA, Acknowledgment: M. Weisskopf/Marshall Space Flight Center
Gorilla on the space station
You might look at this video still and wonder if it's from some future Planet of the Apes movie where the apes go to space. This is actually from a 2016 video showing NASA astronaut Scott Kelly wearing a gorilla suit while on board the International Space Station. A supply ship delivered the suit into orbit as part of a care package.
Published:Caption:Amanda KooserPhoto:Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET
Bigfoot skull on Mars
NASA's Curiosity rover snapped this image in May 2016 of a pretty typical Mars landscape. If you squint at the rock circled in red and let your imagination run wild, then you might agree with some alien enthusiasts who think it looks like a Sasquatch skull. It isn't, but it's fun to imagine a lost tribe of Bigfoots (Bigfeet?) running around on the red planet.
Published:Caption:Amanda KooserPhoto:NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS, red circle added by CNET
Eye on the Hourglass Nebula
The Hubble Space Telescope peered at the Hourglass Nebula in 1996 and caught the nebula peering back. This startling image shows something that looks a lot like a wide-open eye at the center of the nebula.
According to NASA, one theory is "the hourglass shape is produced by the expansion of a fast stellar wind within a slowly expanding cloud which is more dense near its equator than near its poles." We can probably all agree this would make for an awesome blacklight poster.
Published:Caption:Amanda KooserPhoto:NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Ghost Head Nebula
Boo! Stare deep into this image of the Ghost Head Nebula and you will see two bright "eyes" staring back. The Hubble team describes these spots as "very hot, glowing 'blobs' of hydrogen and oxygen."
Published:Caption:Amanda KooserPhoto:ESA, NASA, & Mohammad Heydari-Malayeri (Observatoire de Paris, France)