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NASA's Hubble Space Telescope snaps spooky image of a dying star

A star in its death throes wears orange and red "cobwebs" like a shroud.

This "baleful orange eye" is carbon star CW Leonis as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope.
ESA/Hubble & NASA, T. Ueta, H. Kim

The Hubble Space Telescope is sending some seriously spooky Halloween vibes out into the universe with an eerie image of dying star CW Leonis. The star looks like a cosmic cobweb, though there's a very grounded science explanation for its appearance. In keeping with the season, NASA likened the star to a hypnotizing vortex, a peek into a witch's cauldron and a giant space-spider web.  

CW Leonis is what's known as a "carbon star." "The orange-red 'cobwebs' are dusty clouds of sooty carbon engulfing the dying star," the European Space Agency said in a statement on Thursday. "They were created from the outer layers of CW Leonis being thrown out into the inky black void."  Hubble is a joint project of NASA and ESA.  

CW Leonis is located about 400 light-years from Earth, making it our closest carbon star. Hubble has witnessed changes in the material around the star as seen in an animated view of telescope observations between 2001 and 2016.

The cause of the carbon star's shifts in brightness over a relatively short span of time is still under investigation. "Astronomers speculate that gaps in the dust shrouding CW Leonis may allow beams of starlight to pierce through and illuminate dust, like searchlight beacons through a cloudy sky," ESA said.

Hubble's vision is a perfect companion for a Spitzer Space Telescope view of a Godzilla-like nebula that also came out this week. These celestial visual treats are a delightful way to mark Halloween.