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Halloween Costumes: It Came From Outer Space!

It probably won’t surprise anyone who knows me, but Halloween is my all-time *favorite* holiday. I usually opt to go more traditional when it comes to costumes—vampire, ghost, Death, evil homicidal doll.

But a friend recently asked me about ideas for space-themed Halloween costumes, and I couldn’t resist a challenge.

Specifically, I wanted to riff on the biggest space news that’s hit the web so far this year, perhaps giving a slightly nerdy costume a wider appeal. So here’s my list of the top five spacey Halloween costumes of 2011, in random order.

Do you have ideas for more? Advice and improvements? Fire at will!


Picture courtesy NASA, ESA, P. Challis and R. Kirshner (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics)

Supernova 1987A, which spewed both light and neutrinos that were detected on Earth.

Faster-Than-Light Neutrino

Everybody’s been buzzing about the shocking news from CERN that scientists *think* they recorded neutrinos traveling faster than light, breaking a fundamental law of physics. The news was so huge it even inspired an Irish folk-rock ballad.

A neutrino is an electrically neutral subatomic particle with almost no mass, so it’s completely arbitrary what color best represents one. My mind immediately goes to silver, but it’s your call.

Start with a track suit you don’t mind altering, and use a black marker to decorate it with the symbol for the muon neutrino, the “flavor” of neutrino made by the CERN particle accelerator:

To the back of the suit, stitch on tiny strips of light, airy fabric that will flutter when you move around the room, giving you that cartoon effect signifying speed. Again, color is up to you, but I’d suggest something that’ll contrast with the main body of the costume.

Attach a small piece of relatively stiff wire to a belt, and wrap the other end of the wire firmly around a glow stick. Make sure the “light” is always behind you as you zip through your party.


Picture courtesy NASA/Bill Ingalls

Space shuttle Atlantis gets rolled to the Orbiter Processing Facility after landing at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in July, marking the final flight of the U.S. shuttle program.

Retired Space Shuttle

With the final space shuttle flight completed in July, the retired orbiters are being cleaned out so they can do on display at museums around the country.

There are two ways you can pay homage to the end of an era. If you’re feeling extra crafty, go for the “box on suspenders” approach.

Find a large, rectangular box for the main body and use smaller boxes to craft the nose, engines, and wings. A little black-and-white paint and a NASA logo ties the whole thing together, and suspenders allow you to sling the shuttle over your shoulders. Underneath, I’d suggest a long-sleeve ensemble, such as a turtleneck and sweatpants, colored the deep black of space.

Alternatively, you can add a conical hat and a pair of cardboard wings to a white jumpsuit painted with a black belly (your heat-resistant tiles). Heavy black boots can serve as the engines.

The key element is to make yourself look a bit shabby—maybe missing a tile or two on your belly and with touches of dust (white makeup powder) in your hair. A 5-iron or a gold watch should complete the “retirement” theme.


Picture courtesy NASA

An artist’s concept of the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, or UARS, which fell uncontrolled from the sky in September.

Falling Satellite

We’ve been vaguely worried about space junk for a while, but this year the world really took notice when not one but two defunct satellites came screaming out of the sky completely uncontrolled.

As with the space shuttle, a falling satellite costume could involve a box around your middle or cardboard pieces attached to your back. Either way, what should give you that “I’m a satellite” look is gold foil on your body, some shiny “solar panel” wings, and a few antennae poking out of your body.

To let folks know that you’re falling, stitch some strings randomly to your arms and tie bits of debris at the ends, each ideally colored on one side with orange and red glitter, to give the impression that the chunks are heating up as they plunge through the atmosphere.

Top yourself off with gold or silver face paint and spray-on orange and red hair coloring, making your “fireball” locks as spiky or disheveled as possible.


Picture courtesy NASA/SDO

On August 1 the entire Earth-facing side of the sun erupted in activity, including a C3-class solar flare and a coronal mass ejection, as seen in an extreme ultraviolet shot from a NASA satellite.

Coronal Mass Ejection

There’s nothing like a sun storm to brighten everyone’s day. Specifically, a CME is a cloud of charged solar particles that can trigger auroras if it’s aimed at Earth, and we’ve definitely seen more of them this year as the sun heads into the active phase of its roughly 11-year cycle.

Use a black jumpsuit or leotard as your base, and sew on some fluffed up wool batting or cotton dyed in sunny colors—red, orange, yellow, etc.—sprinkled with similarly colored glitter. Decorate your face with “plus” and “minus” symbols, and either spray-paint your hair to match the sun-colored wool or seek out a curly wig in a similar shade.

For a low-tech prop, carry a paper fan made out of a color picture of an aurora. If you have an iPad or a smartphone, make sure to share some aurora pictures as you wander about the room!

Also, if you happen to be with a friend dressed as a satellite, menace them occasionally.


Picture courtesy Dana Berry/NASA

An artist’s concept of an Earthlike planet in another star system.

Earthlike Planet

We’re in a historic time for finding planets around other stars, with the number now at almost 700 alien worlds. Even more exciting, a handful of these so-called exoplanets seem to have Earthlike qualities.

As a spacey costume idea, this one may be the easiest of the bunch, since it’s basically familiar territory.

Start with some sky-blue pants decorated with fluffy, white cotton clouds. Add a sea-green shirt, paint your face brown as soil, and spray-color your hair green like grass. Glue or draw a few exotic animals all over the costume, the more alien-looking the better.

For the piece de resistance, wear a headband with two bobbing yellow globes, to represent your Tatooine-like twin suns.


  1. Dean
    March 10, 2012, 10:01 pm

    Last Holloween I was the universe. I wore all black with a black mask and attached pictures of galaxies and stars to my clothes and a cat eye nebula on the forhead of my mask.

  2. Samuel
    October 28, 2011, 11:13 pm

    What about distant supernovae. It is the reason the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded this year in regard to proving the acceleration of the universe!

  3. JPMajor
    Dallas, TX
    October 28, 2011, 11:28 am

    If you do dress up as an FTL neutrino make sure you arrive at your parties 60 nanoseconds early.