Here's a picture that's beautiful and terrifying in equal measure. It's a spider coated in a very fine layer of gold. We'll tell you why people have made this gorgeous monstrosity, and what happens next.

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This is actually a preparatory step to creating an even more incredible image. This spider, put on display as it is in the Australian Museum, has just been readied for scanning electron microscopy.

Getting a sample ready for scanning electron microscopy can be a long process. The sample needs to be meticulously cleaned, or you'll just get an image of grime. (Although, thanks to scanning electron microscopy, we have a lot of beautiful images of the components of grime.) The sample also usually has to be prepped for exposure to a vacuum, as air particles will get in the way of the electrons. Finally, the object has to be covered in a conductive material. Insulating materials can, over the course of a scanning session, slowly build up charge on their surface. The incoming electrons interact with that charge and throw off the image. Any sample that isn't metal is coated in a conductive material like gold, platinum, tungsten, or carbon.

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The type of metal is dictated by the type of picture. Carbon is good for analysis of the materials that the sample comprises. Gold makes for a detailed picture that highlights structural elements. Since everyone already knows the material make up of spiders - pure evil - in this case the museum got a gold-covered arachnid.

[Via Scanning Electron Microscopy, How SEM Works.]