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As Halloween approaches, NASA has released its latest Galaxy of Horrors posters. 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 the ever-elusive dark matter.
As fun and creative as these three posters are, they are based on real phenomena. In a dead galaxy, the birth of new stars has stopped and most of the remaining stars are long-lived, small, red stars that give the galaxy a crimson glow. Similarly, when dead stars collide, they sometimes create a gamma-ray burst, the brightest type of explosion in the universe. And while dark matter may seem like something out of a Halloween story, its gravity holds stars inside galaxies and keeps groups of galaxies together in clusters – yet scientists don’t know what this invisible matter is made of.
The posters, which are available for free download, were produced by NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program Office, located at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, with input from astrophysicists.
The dark matter poster with the tagline “Something else is out there” depicts a massive spider seen crawling across the sky on a luminous web, but the concept alludes to the so-called cosmic web, which is the large-scale organization of matter and dark matter in the universe. Thin filaments of matter and dark matter connect clusters of galaxies, like roads between major cities. In fact, scientific visualizations of the cosmic web resemble the spider’s web shown on the poster.
Similarly, the two narrow beams of energy seen in the gamma-ray burst poster reflect how they occur in real life, moving in opposite directions from colliding stellar bodies. The bursts are so intense that if such an event were to occur “near” Earth, causing a beam to be directed directly at our planet, the beam of radiation and particles could be dangerous.
If 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 is a really fun way to imagine one of these things happening,” Racusin said. “But I wouldn’t want to be those space travelers!”
To learn more about these posters and download the free Spanish and English versions, visit Galaxy of Horrors !