An overhead satellite image of Hurricane Matthew battering Haiti is disturbing people across the internet for an unusual reason: The image bears an uncanny resemblance to a skull or spooky goblin face.
The sinister satellite image, which was posted on Twitter Tuesday (Oct. 4) by Stu Ostro, a meteorologist at The Weather Channel, went viral, with users likening the creepy face to the Grinch or a skull. The image, which was taken using infrared light, was color coded to show the most intense portions of Hurricane Matthew. Color coding is a standard practice in weather reporting, though it's not clear whether this color coding was intentionally ghoulish.
The seeming row of teeth in the storm's creepy face are actually convection clouds, Paul Meyer, an atmospheric scientist at NASA's Earth Science Office, told CNN. [Face on a Comet: See Images of Faces in Space]
Hurricane Matthew is currently heading toward the Bahamas, but the storm could cause intense winds and rainfall on Florida's east coast and parts of North Carolina, according to an update released by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) at 8 a.m. ET today (Oct. 5). The storm is currently listed as a Category 3 hurricane, the NHC reported.
The phenomenon of seeing significance in random images or objects, known as pareidolia, is surprisingly common; humans are wired to see structure and significance in images, according to David Huber, a psychologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who has studied the phenomenon.
"Your brain is constantly trying to make the most out of just the tiniest thing," Huber previously told Live Science. "You're sort of in overdrive on imagining from limited information that there is a face."
And humans are particularly wired to see faces everywhere: From an evolutionarily perspective, humans probably had a need to react more quickly to things with faces — from a scary tiger, to an enemy tribesman, to a cute and hungry baby — than to inanimate objects, Huber said. Add in millions of years of evolution, and voilà: the image of the Virgin Mary on toast, a face on a comet and ghoulish skulls in hurricane imagery.
Original article on Live Science.
Live Science newsletter
Stay up to date on the latest science news by signing up for our Essentials newsletter.
Tia is the managing editor and was previously a senior writer for Live Science. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Wired.com and other outlets. She holds a master's degree in bioengineering from the University of Washington, a graduate certificate in science writing from UC Santa Cruz and a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. Tia was part of a team at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that published the Empty Cradles series on preterm births, which won multiple awards, including the 2012 Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.