Some lucky trick-or-treaters can expect more than candy this Halloween! If they happen to knock on an amateur astronomer's door, they may get a chance to see some of the spooky wonders of the cosmos through a telescope. For the astronomers who are planning to treat their little visitors to a look through a 'scope, read on for some recommended viewing targets!
Ghost of Jupiter
This ghostly figure is what remains of a dying Sun-like star. When a medium-mass star runs out of fuel, it expels its outer layers. The white dwarf star that's left behind casts an eerie glow on the ejected material. Our middle-aged Sun can expect to experience a similar fate in about five billion years.
Cat's Eye Nebula
The Cat's Eye Nebula is another dying star, but in this case the star has been expelling material in bursts. Each burst of material created a different shell, leading to the intricate structure we see. The Cat's Eye is about 3,000 light-years away — roughly 17,600,000,000,000,000 miles, which is only about 3% of the length of the Milky Way Galaxy.
Witch's Broom Nebula
The Witch's Broom Nebula is part of the much larger Veil Nebula (shown above). This nebula, too, is leftover from a dying star, but this one was different — it was created by a supernova explosion, which happens when much more massive stars die. The violent explosion spread the star's contents over 100 light-years across space in an event that produced elements that can be recycled into later generations of stars (and perhaps planets and people!).
The forces of the cosmos carved a spooky face into this giant pumpkin! This is an extra treat for you that you won't be able to see through your backyard telescope. It was taken with NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, which looks at the universe through heat vision goggles. Our eyes are tuned to pick up just a small slice of the kinds of light that are out there, and special telescopes can help us widen our range. Infrared telescopes like Spitzer (and the upcoming Webb and WFIRST) can peer through thick clouds of dust to see what's hidden inside.
Who knows what other spooky structures may be lurking in the cosmic deep, waiting to be found...