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The Screaming Demon in an Icelandic Nightmare

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Over the week I've been posting pictures from nature of objects that look creepy to our human eyes and brains. A ghostly salty lake, a nebula like a chain of spirits chasing some hapless victim (or perhaps even more disconcerting, fleeing from something even worse), and a flower that appears as a harbinger of doom. But my favorite example of this has to be this picture below, a nightmarish face that is the personification of evil:

This picture is seriously freaky, poking at things deep in the basest and darkest parts of our brains. Is it a demon, screaming into the night? The tortured soul of someone lost between worlds?

Actually, itâs a little of both, and neither. Amazingly, itâs an image of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull, back when it was erupting in 2010. This is not a picture taken with visible light (the kind our eyes see), but is actually made up of Icelandic Coastal Patrol radar measurements of the mountain! Three large craters, 200-500 meters across, make up the agonized âfaceâ of the volcano, and the peak in the middle makes a perfect, if wicked, nose.

That volcanic eruption disrupted travel and industry for days, with a total impact cost of several billion dollars. I was rather astonished to hear that it caused no direct human death, though many cattle died during the eruption.

Metaphorically, a demon screaming in the night isnât such a bad description of a volcano, and it does represent an object influenced by two worlds: the Earthâs mantle, and the crust through which itâs punctured.

Of course, thatâs more whimsy than fact. Still, itâs fun to let our imaginations roam a little freely when viewing images like this. Interpreting scientific images isnât always just a matter of tables of numbers and the application of complex equations; it takes real imagination, sometimes, to probe the subtleties of what is seen. Flashes of insight should not be discounted when examining scienceâ¦and of course, when an image appeals to our more artistic nature, itâs far easier to lead people into understanding it.

In fact, Iâve put together a gallery of Halloween-themed astronomical images to delight you and perhaps creep you out just a wee bit⦠because itâs also fun.

So, boo! Happy Halloween, BABloggees.

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