Does This New NASA Pic Look Like a ‘Giant Space-Spider Web’ to You?

by Jennifer Shea
NASA/Getty Images

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has a knack for finding holiday-themed shapes in outer space. This time it’s a “giant space-spider web,” which can be seen in a photo of a dying star, and just in time for Halloween.

Astronomers spotted the likeness in the dying star through the Hubble Space Telescope, which NASA released into space from the space shuttle Discovery in 1990. It is the joint project of NASA and the European Space Agency.

Astronomers have been watching this particular star, CW Leonis, a carbon red giant, for decades now, the Daily Mail reports. It sits roughly 400 light-years from Earth. And it’s our closest carbon-star neighbor.

NASA Has Been Tracking the Expansion of the ‘Space-Spider Web’ for Decades

As NASA’s photo shows, orange-red “cobweb” strands extend out from the star’s center. Those are the “dusty clouds of sooty carbon” that surround the dying star, NASA explains. They’re a sign that the star’s outer layers are fading into the void of outer space. During two decades of observation, astronomers have been able to track the gradual expansion of those threads of material from the dying star.

The carbon is a result of nuclear fusion in the star’s core. And as the carbon from the dying star emanates out into outer space, it offers the raw material necessary for future stars and planets to coalesce.

Red giants are so called because of the bright red coloration that signals their core temperature has risen high enough to ignite helium fusion. That means they’re in the later stages of stellar evolution. CW Leonis is orange-reddish because its surface temperature is only 2,300 degrees Farenheit.

Hubble Telescope Experienced Technical Issues Last Week

Meanwhile, for the second time this year, the Hubble Space Telescope has run into technical issues. This time, the telescope ceased working and went into “safe mode” on Oct. 25. NASA said that was the result of synchronization problems with internal spacecraft communications.

So NASA then had to investigate the technical issues, per the Daily Mail. Scientific observations were put on the back burner while the space agency looked into the matter.

In a Monday tweet, NASA said the instruments in question remain in good condition. But by Wednesday, the telescope was still in safe mode.

Earlier this year, the Hubble Telescope’s computer, which is by now quite dated, suddenly stopped functioning. Flight controllers at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland tried several times to get it working again. They finally wound up switching the Hubble to its backup computer. The risky gambit paid off, getting the Hubble back up and running until last week.