NASA has shared a haunting image of a dying star — taken by the Hubble Space Telescope — and likened it to a witch’s cauldron in celebration of Halloween. 

The image shows the star CW Leonis. It is located 400 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Leo. It is a type red giant with a carbon rich atmosphere.

NASA used the Halloween image to describe a ‘giant-space-spider web’ due to a series ‘cobwebs surrounding the central bright area.  

These ‘cobwebs are caused by dusty cloud of sooty and carbon from the star’s outer layer and pushed into the void. 

This new image is a result of a series a observations over a period of five years. It was created before NASA reported problems with the Hubble telescope last Wednesday.

Although it is not clear what the current status is of the orbital observatory, the most recent NASA update stated that it was in safe mode pending further investigations.

Every year NASA releases a Hubble image to celebrate Halloween, including a dying star that looked like a jack-o’-lantern and an angry looking ‘cat’s eye’.

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NASA has shared a haunting image of a dying red giant star, 'likened to a witches cauldron' taken by the Hubble Space Telescope to celebrate Halloween

NASA shared a haunting image of a dying star with the Hubble Space Telescope, which NASA used to celebrate Halloween


CW Leonis, which is approximately 400 light-years from Earth, is the nearest carbon star.

It is covered in a thick layer of dust and gases, pushing it from the surface to the void.

It was discovered by Eric Becklin and his team of astronomers in 1969. They used infrared observations to discover it. 

  • Constellation: Leo 
  • Mass: 0.7 to 0.9 times the Sun
  • Radius: 560 times the Sun 
  • Temperature: 2,300 K 
  • Type: The carbon-rich red giant 

This image was actually taken through a series observations between 2011-2016, but it was not released to the public until this Halloween.  

Known as CW Leonis, it is the closest ‘carbon star’ to the Earth, and unlike the Sun, which has a hydrogen atmosphere, its atmosphere is made of the same chemical as we are — carbon, giving it a carbon-rich atmosphere, and sooty cloud.   

It is currently approximately 70% of the Sun’s total mass, but it would have been three times larger if it had begun to shake off its atmosphere.  

Small to intermediate-mass stars that run out of hydrogen fuel in the cores of their cores can experience outwards pressure which balances the crush gravity within their cores. This causes the star to begin collapsing. 

The core collapsing, the plasma shell surrounding it becomes hot enough for hydrogen to fuse. This heat generates enough heat that the outer layers of star are dramatically expanded and transformed into a bloated, red giant. 

Stars in this phase of life release huge amounts of dust and gas into space, eventually destroying their outer layers. 

This has happened to the carbon star CW Leonis. It has created a dense layer of sooty dust around the star. 

The image shows the star CW Leonis, which sits 400 light-years from the Earth in the constellation of Leo, and is a type of red giant with a carbon-rich atmosphere

The image shows the star CW Leonis. It is located 400 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Leo. It is a type red giant with a carbon rich atmosphere.

It is believed to be at the end of life, blowing out the sooty atmosphere, until eventually the white dwarf core.  

Astronomers can study the interaction between the star’s surrounding turbulent environment and the star at a’relatively near’ distance. 

This carbon-rich envelope is about 69,000 years old, and is about 1.4 times the mass of the Sun — with more material added constantly. 

It has a complex structure that includes arcs and unfinished outer shells. This clumpiness may be caused by a magnetic star cycle, which is similar to periodic changes in Sun’s brightness, according to astronomers.

Wide field view of the region surrounding CW Leonis. It is thought to be in the late stage of life, blowing the sooty atmosphere away, until eventually all that will remain is the white dwarf core

Wide-field view of the area surrounding CW Leonis. It is believed to be in its final stage of life, blowing away the sooty atmosphere until eventually the white dwarf core.

This results in periodic increases in the loss of mass — so rather than a constant flow of material, it happens in waves over time.

This is an interesting object for astronomers to study due to its proximity and complex structure. Alternative theories suggest that it could have been sculpted from a nearby companion star.

One area is a series bright beams that radiate from CW Leonis and have been detected using telescopes on the Earth or orbiting it.

These radiating stars can be seen in Hubble’s newly released image. 

What makes them compelling is that they’ve changed in brightness within a 15 year period — an incredibly short span of time in astronomical terms. 

Every year NASA releases a Hubble image to celebrate Halloween, including a dying star that looked like a jack-o'-lantern and an angry looking 'cats eye'.

NASA releases a Hubble image every Halloween to celebrate Halloween. This includes a dying star looking like a Jack-o’-lantern as well as an angry looking “cats eye”.

This is the 2020 NASA Hubble Halloween image, showing a cosmic jack-o-lantern with glowing eyes and crooked smile — it is actually two galaxies colliding in Canis Major

This is the 2020 NASA Hubble Halloween image, showing a cosmic jack-o-lantern with glowing eyes and crooked smile — it is actually two galaxies colliding in Canis Major

Astronomers speculate that these beams may be able to penetrate the dust surrounding CW Leonis and illuminate further from the star. 

The exact cause of the dramatic fluctuations in their brightness is still unknown, however, the team stated.  

Due to its low surface temperature of 2300 degrees Fahrenheit, CW Leonis is orange-reddish in colour. 

The star’s green-tinted beams emitting light glow at invisible wavelengths. 

To improve analysis through colour contrast, the Hubble team has added green to the infrared images, as it is devoid of natural colour.


The Hubble space telescope launched via Discovery, a space shuttle from Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, on April 24, 1990.

It cost $4.7 billion (£3.4 billion) to build and has a 7ft 10in mirror which can observe in ultraviolet, visible and near-infrared.

Hubble launched in 1990

The Hubble space telescope, launched by Discovery, the space shuttle Discovery from Kennedy Space Centre Florida on April 24, 1990. 

It is named for Edwin Hubble, famed astronomer and was born in Missouri, Missouri in 1889.

He is perhaps most well-known for discovering that the universe expands at a rapid rate – now known as the Hubble constant. 

Hubble has made over 1.5 million observations of more than 43,500 celestial objects and helped publish more than 15,000 scientific papers.

The planet Jupiter was first seen in March 1991. It was a subject that it returned to frequently.

Hubble also provided the first conclusive evidence that supermassive black hole centers exist in galaxies, after observing M87 in 1993. 

Other major discoveries included the ‘Pillars of Creation’, one of the most iconic images in astronomy, taken in 1995 and showing the violent tendrils of gas and dust in a stellar nursery. 

It orbits Earth at a speed approximately 17,000mph (27.300kph). It orbits Earth in low Earth orbit at around 340 miles in height, slightly higher than that of the ISS. 

Hubble’s primary mirror is 2.4 meters (7 feet, 10.5 inches) across and in total is 13.3 meters (43.5 feet) long – the length of a large school bus.

However, the mirror was the focus of the first five servicing missions that used the spaceship.

Mission support 

Commander Richard Covey and his crew were the first to perform a service mission. They installed devices that corrected a vision problem caused due to a misshaped mirror. 

This meant that the telescope could not focus all of the light from an object to one sharp point, which resulted in a fuzzy halo.

Future missions will see the installation infrared cameras to enable astronomers see distant galaxies. 

Other missions were created to repair problems on board. In 1999, three gyroscopes went out of commission. The solar panels also needed to be re-aligned.  

The Hubble’s last service mission was to Atlantis in 2009. It was the’most difficult and intense servicing mission’. 

It required five spacewalks in order to install two new instruments, including a Wide Field Camera. It is now 100 times more powerful that it was when it launched. 

The systems that control the science instruments also had issues, similar to the current problems with the telescope. 

This resulted is a new set system, as well additional backups that could easily be managed from the ground. These systems were installed inside the telescope.  

Hubble has been called the most important telescope since Galileo’s first use of it to view Jupiter’s moons. It would be a huge loss to astronomy to lose it.

Hubble space telescope: 

  • Mission duration:31 years, 2 mois, 8 days
  • ManufacturerLockheed Martin and Perkin-Elmere 
  • Mass: 24,490lb 
  • Launch date: April 24, 1990
  • Launch site: Kennedy Space Center, Florida
  • Started service: May 20, 1990
  • First observation: Jupiter (March 1991).
  • Oral: 333-336 mi 
  • Wavelengths: Near-infrared, visible light, ultraviolet