Outer-space adventure is right in NASA's wheelhouse, and the agency conveniently busted out a vaguely Star Wars-themed image on Thursday as "The Force Awakens" opened in theaters.
Facebook might have offered users a chance to add a lightsaber to their profile photos
, but NASA went bigger, claiming its Hubble Space Telescope had photographed "what looks like a cosmic, double-bladed lightsaber."
The space agency's post
showing spectacular beams of yellow-orange light garnered thousands of likes and retweets. But the Star Wars link was more artistic license than hard science.
The "lightsaber" beams radiating from what NASA described as "a dark, Jedi-like cloak of dust" are in fact jets of superheated material shooting out from a newborn star, the agency explained in a longer article
peppered with humorous Star Wars references.
Plenty of people praised the majestic beauty of the image, and some liked the nod to the movies. But others were unimpressed by NASA's attempt to use the force to its advantage.
"It looks nothing like a lightsaber, guys," grumbled Charles Roberts on Facebook, adding the hashtag #starwarspandering.
"Maybe you should hire astronomers and not scifi nerds," quipped Twitter user @Pazzjurist.
A post too far?
NASA has been lauded for its hugely successful social media strategy
that seeks to draw wider attention to its work, but some people felt it had gone too far this time.
"Dear NASA. We like science. We like information. We don't have to be sold on it using pop culture references," commented Facebook user Isobelle Fox.
But Albert Cofrin, who identifies himself on Facebook as an engineer at NASA, shot back, saying, "For a majority of the population that is not the case, but thanks for your input."
NASA did acknowledge that its image falls short on at least one key Star Wars measure.
"This celestial lightsaber does not lie in a galaxy far, far away, but rather inside our home galaxy, the Milky Way," it said.