Have an astronomical Valentine’s Day

The entire universe in blog form
Feb. 13 2008 10:00 PM

Have an astronomical Valentine’s Day

OK, it's a manufactured holiday, blah blah blah. That doesn't mean we can't have fun with it! If you have someone you love who also shares your love of the sky, then have I got the pictures for you.

I already linked to scientist valentines cards, and the one I made on my own. But what about real astronomical objects? Turns out there are quite a few.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death from the Skies!  

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Let's start close to home... astronomically speaking.

You may already know about the famous Mars Valentine Crater:

But did you know about the Valentine Mars mesa?

The asteroid Eros was visited by the NEAR spacecraft, which took the picture below. Eros isn't heart-shaped (it's spud-shaped), so why include it? Well, don't you know your mythology?

Heading outward into the Universe, we can find IC 805... also called the Heart Nebula, taken by the gifted astrophotographer John Chumack and posted on BAUT:

And finally, something I have never seen come up before. I wanted this list to be as complete as possible, so I went through different types of objects in my head. Crater? Yup. Mesa? Yup. Asteroid, nebula? Yup2. Then I wondered, are there any heart-shaped galaxies?

And bang, right away I knew which one would fit the bill.

These are the famous Antenna Galaxies, two galaxies in the act of colliding. They are not usually rotated this way, so the heart-shape isn't obvious. In fact, I wonder if anyone else has ever thought of this? A (brief) search didn't turn up anything.

But how perfect is this? The two galaxies are merging, becoming one. For millions of years they have been dancing this tango, at first reaching out long arms to each other, then sweeping past each other perhaps several times before finally uniting.

And the outcome of such a marriage is similar to that in humans... birth! Those reddish pink regions are where countless millions of stars are being born before our eyes. The ultimate product of love gravity.

So if you do happen to celebrate Valentine's Day here on Earth, maybe it'll help a bit to keep your eyes on the skies. There's love to be found just about everywhere.

And hey, if all of this works, you can finally ask, Did the Earth move for you?