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SYFY WIRE Halloween

Earthlings beware! NASA taps vintage B-movies to explore our ‘Galaxy of Horrors’

By Benjamin Bullard
NASA's Galaxy of Horrors

If decades’ worth of sci-fi horror movies, TV serials, and comics have taught us anything, it’s that space sounds like a scary place. And for the geeky ghouls at NASA, there’s no time like Halloween to put humanity back in touch with our innate fear of the cold, dark void — where no one can hear us scream. 

Drawing liberally on the rich B-movie tradition of scaring us of any unfamiliar thing that lurks beyond our own atmosphere, NASA is tapping the vibes of early sci-fi horror (as well as subverting all those optimistic early space-age tropes about a future that never arrived) to spook us into getting excited about what lies beyond the solar system. 

The space agency is going all-out with its Galaxy of Horrors exoplanet campaign, whipping up vintage-style scary posters — and even an eerie video clip that splits the difference between The Twilight Zone and It Came from Outer Space — to celebrate the final frontier…and hopefully ensnare the hearts and minds of a few budding scientists and astronauts in the process:

NASA Zombie Worlds poster
NASA Rains of Terror Poster

The dystopian take on space’s sinister side isn’t aimed at scaring anyone away, of course. In fact, it’s part of NASA’s Halloween-themed invitation to explore the ever-growing list of newly-discovered exoplanets — the celestial bodies that orbit far-away stars, just as Earth orbits the Sun.

Even though the posters are delightfully stylized, they represent real astronomy. The first poster highlights HD 189733 b, “a planet with an atmosphere full of silicates — the key component in sand and glass — and winds blowing at over 5,400 mph (6,700 kph),” says NASA. “At those speeds, the silicates whipping through the air might create a perpetual storm of flying glass. If human or robotic explorers could travel 63 light-years from Earth to get there, they would never survive this planetary hellscape.”

Oh, so this stuff actually is frightening? Well then, let’s move on to the second poster, which portrays a trio of spectacularly-named planets (Poltergeist, Draugr, and Phobetor) in orbit around a dead star, pulsar PSR B1257+12. “Like other pulsars, PSRB 1257+12 produces dual beams of intense radiation that can sometimes be seen across the galaxy. Stray radiation and high-energy particles would attack the three nearby planets,” says NASA. “Life as we know it could never form on these worlds.”

All the terrifying talk about exoplanets comes just as NASA reveals a new initiative that outlines possible mission ideas for the Planetary Mission Concept Studies Program. In addition to floating ambitious mission concepts that would take us farther than ever into lunar and Martian exploration, the program’s more far-reaching proposals include future visits to Mercury, Venus, Pluto’s suspected subsurface ocean, Neptune and its moon Triton, Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus, the dwarf planet Ceres, and the Kuiper belt.

Hey, a trip to Neptune sounds scary-cool enough already — and we’re not even talking about exoplanets. Maybe when NASA finally preps its first manned trip to the solar system’s outer rim, it’ll come with a PR campaign that frightens the bejeezus out of everyone. And if it happens at Halloween, NASA definitely won’t be hearing a peep of complaint from us (okay, okay — maybe just one small scream).