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NASA's Pumpkin-Carving Contest: Take a Look at Rocket Scientists' Astounding Creations
This Europa Clipper pumpkin display won NASA's annual pumpkin-carving contest this year.
Credit: Lillian Chen/NASA JPL

NASA held its seventh annual pumpkin-carving contest yesterday (Oct. 31) at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, where scientists and engineers competed to create the most geeky and spectacular pumpkin displays. The results are simply amazing.

In a facility full of people who build spacecraft for a living, it's no surprise that NASA's pumpkin carvers came up with some pretty impressive pumpkin displays.

From an exploding supernova and a parachuting gourd to a Europa Clipper and a sci-fi spaceship, here are the most amazing pumpkins NASA employees created this year. [Photos: Space Halloween Pumpkins a Cosmic Treat]

Possibly the most outstanding pumpkin at JPL was a parachuting pumpkin built by a team of engineers who specialize in entry, descent and landing procedures for Mars rovers like Curiosity. With an air blower beneath the pumpkin, the parachute kept the gourd afloat.

"It was like one of those indoor skydiving places," Pete Waydo, a mechanical engineer at JPL and a judge of the contest, told The Verge. "You could hang the pumpkin there on the parachute and it would free-fly indefinitely there."

The official winner of this year's contest was a clever representation of NASA's Europa Clipper mission, which aims to send a lander to the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa in the late 2020s.

Europa Clipper was named after "the clipper ships that sailed across the oceans of Earth in the 19th century … three-masted sailing vessels renowned for their grace and swiftness," NASA officials said in a statement. So, this pumpkin was carved to look like an old ship floating on a "sea" of dry ice. In the background is a big, beautiful artist's impression of Jupiter surrounded by stars.

Another elaborate Mars lander made an appearance at JPL's pumpkin-carving contest: NASA's Mars InSight mission, which the agency hopes to launch in 2018. Like the actual InSight lander, this high-tech pumpkin is equipped with two round solar panels and a moving instrument-deployment arm. When InSight gets to Mars, it will use this moving arm to deploy a seismometer and a heat probe to study geological processes on the Red Planet.

To honor the recent detection of gravitational waves, one pumpkin-carving team built a model that shows how the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) works. Two colliding bodies (such as neutron stars or black holes) generate ripples in space-time. In this case, the collision generates a ripple in a bright pink slinky toy, which triggers a light inside the "Earth."

One team combined a Hoberman sphere with a pumpkin to create a supernova explosion.
One team combined a Hoberman sphere with a pumpkin to create a supernova explosion.
Credit: Lillian Chen/NASA JPL

Speaking of creative uses for simple toys, apparently those expanding Hoberman sphere toys are a great way to turn a pumpkin into an exploding supernova.

A "Star Wars" TIE Fighter invaded JPL's annual pumpkin-carving contest.
A "Star Wars" TIE Fighter invaded JPL's annual pumpkin-carving contest.
Credit: Lillian Chen/NASA JPL

Science-fiction pumpkins also made an appearance among all the displays of real science and space missions. For instance, one team created a "Star Wars" TIE Fighter soaring through the stars in a galaxy far, far away.

And last but certainly not least, here's one of the more relatable contest entries: a Halloween-themed model of the parking garage at JPL, which NASA engineer Aaron Yazzie described as "ever-frightening" in a Twitter post.

Want to learn how to make pumpkins this cool? Check out our guide: Carve Like an Engineer: Halloween Pumpkin Design Advice from NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab.

Email Hanneke Weitering at or follow her @hannekescience. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on