If you like the spooky Halloween season, how about having some spooky fun with the night sky? Space is filled with weird stuff that can make your spine tingle and your arm hairs stand up.
The Northern and Southern Lights, also known as auroras, are magical, awe-inspiring, and downright eerie. When I saw the Northern Lights for the first time as a kid, I was in awe but felt creeped out at the same time. I’m jealous of the people who get to see them regularly. They aren’t predictable, but meteorologists and astronomers often let us know when there is a possibility of seeing them.
Space X Rockets & Satellites
One night, I was on the phone with my husband, who was on a business trip in Los Angeles. I was at home in the Phoenix area. We were both outside, and at the same time, we both freaked out on the phone because we saw something crazy in the sky. It turned out to be a Space X rocket that had just launched with its load of StarLink satellites. I’ve seen this many times since then.
If you’ve never seen this before, you might wonder if there’s a missile headed your way. One couple told me, “We were driving down I-17 from Sedona and thought it was an incoming missile from North Korea. We were terrified.”
They’re quite beautiful and less creepy once you know what they are. If you go stargazing the night after the launch, you might see an entire trail of 30 satellites in low orbit before reaching their final orbital altitude.
Draco, the Dragon
If dragons qualify as spooky for you, check out the constellation Draco. Some cultures view this group of stars as a dragon and have some fun stories to go along with it. Look some of the stories up online, then use a stargazing app or a star chart to help you locate Draco. It will be towards the Northern sky near the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia.
Algol, the Demon Star
Algol gets its nickname “Demon Star” because of how it behaves compared to other stars. It’s actually a three-star system. One of the stars is hot and super bright, while another is larger, but because it’s cooler, it’s fainter. As they pass in front of each other, it causes 10-hour-long eclipses that constantly change the star’s brightness. Use a stargazing app to find Algol in the constellation Perseus.
LARGE BACKYARD TELESCOPES (10″ OR LARGER)
Nebulae are gorgeous, but some of them are spooky. A nebula is an enormous cloud of dust and gas that a nearby star or group of stars illuminates. The Orion Nebula is visible to the naked eye, but it looks like a star in the dagger that hangs from Orion’s belt. Most nebulae are only visible through telescopes.
Because the human brain loves to identify patterns or things we recognize, some nebulae are named for the shapes of familiar things. If you have a 10-inch or larger backyard telescope, you can look for these nebulae for some awe-inspiring, spooky fun.
Witch Head Nebula
Eridanus is a lesser-known constellation near Orion. The light from Rigel, a bright star in Orion, illuminates the so-called Witch Head Nebula. It’s not difficult to imagine the silhouette of a witch’s face in this one.
The Crab Nebula is a beautiful bubble of gas and dust, but some people feel creeped out when they think of how big it is. The vastness of space is difficult for our Earth-bound minds to comprehend, but we sure do try.
Cat’s Eye Nebula
Cat’s eyes creep me out a little bit. It’s the shape of the pupils that makes me feel like they’re thinking evil thoughts about pushing your houseplant onto the floor or tearing your curtains off the wall. But the Cat’s Eye Nebula is nothing but beautiful. It’s too far away to dish out any mischief on us.
Why are owls so majestic, gorgeous, and spooky simultaneously? Have you ever heard one fly? No, you haven’t because they make no sound when they flap their wings. It’s amazing. This nebula looks like an owl’s face with two big, round eyes.
Beyond the reach of the naked eye or simple backyard telescopes are unimagined wonders in deep space. Here are a few bewitching celestial objects that can only be detected with X-ray telescopes or other extremely powerful instruments.
Ghost Hand of God Nebula
The Ghost Hand is another case of our brains trying to see a pattern in a dust cloud in space. It does resemble an upraised wrist and a hand. This one’s so astounding that my brain immediately starts thinking of great Sci-Fi stories, even though I’m not a writer of Sci-Fi.
Casper the Friendly Ghost Nebula
I don’t know if a friendly ghost is considered spooky, but I automatically categorize all ghosts as eerie. The truth is, I don’t see a ghost in this one. Maybe astronomers do have good imaginations?
Fomalhaut A (Eye of Sauron)
This star is south of the Equator but is still visible to much of the Northern Hemisphere. It’s surrounded by several debris disks, giving it an unusual look, much like the Eye of Sauron from The Lord of the Rings movies. Definitely spooky!
Face on Mars
Oh, this face is so creepy-looking. I’m so glad we can’t see this on the surface of our Moon with the naked eye. It would give both children and adults nightmares after a night of moongazing. Instead, it’s a safe 250 million miles away.
Black Widow Nebula
I know the Universe has no agenda to spook us, but it did an excellent job with this nebula. It really does look like the marble-bodied arachnid known as the black widow.