Have an astronomical Valentine’s Day

By Phil Plait | February 13, 2008 10:00 pm

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.

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?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Humor, Pretty pictures

Comments (28)

  1. bassmanpete

    The Valentine Mars Mesa looks more like a tooth from a Great White Shark to me.

    And the outcome of such a marriage is similar to that in humans… birth!

    And don’t the Antenna Galaxies look like two embryonic birds or dinosaurs facing each other :)

  2. bassmanpete

    Oops, forgot to add, great pix as usual Phil.

  3. niZmO_Man

    Great pics indeed, but IC 805 can look like something else…
    Hope everyone got yummy chocolates and other stuff =P

  4. Troy

    I remember we had a dog that drank antifreeze (despite its nuclear green appearance ethylene glycol has a sweet taste) and died shortly afterward. As we were digging the hole we were going to bury him we found a rock that was heart shaped. The universe is teeming with love.

  5. autumn

    All of these pictures are wonderful, but my wife is still more impressed by the nearly unbelievable coincidence of chemicals that is chocolate.
    Sugar, caffeine, other alkaloids. . .
    Afterwards, the pictures are cute, but for the here and now, on this planet, I endorse the drugs.
    They don’t take millions of years to take effect.

  6. bad Jim

    My aged mother recently spent two nights in the hospital with pneumonia, and afterwards, still on oxygen, was deeply depressed, thought she was “on the way out”. I plied her with chocolate and eventually her mood lifted.

    She’s off the pipe now, happily ate an entire chimichango de mariscos today, but I’m keeping stocked up on the sweet brown stuff just in case.

  7. Nice pix! Thanks for sharing those.

    In the same vein (pun intended), here’s a link to a number of valentines from the world of radiology:


  8. Nadia

    Awesome pics! 😀

  9. Matt A

    Great: Now the entire universe is apparently mocking my single status. Or at least two planets, one asteroid, a nebula and two galaxies. It’d be enough to make me feel insignificant if I didn’t have a Beeblebrox ego…

  10. Phil

    What do you mean Valentine’s Day is a manufactured holiday? If you mean manufactured by Chaucer, then you would be correct.

  11. Hubie

    I’ve always wondered where that shape came from. Hearts are definitely not heart-shaped.

    I realize that this is a question for the Bad Anatomist, but for some reason I can’t find his/her website.

  12. Hey, in that Antenna Galaxy…I see something else. Could it be? Why I think it is….I see JESUS!!

    Praise the lawd.

  13. Hey, BA. When two galaxies collide like this, given the vast space between star systems, do they pretty much integrate peacefully, or do individual stars actually collide?

  14. Greg

    Oh Phil, you charmer.

    BTW Do galaxies get divorced?

  15. Tom


    If our sun is an average-sized star, and if a galaxy has 100 billion stars, then if you lined up all of the stars in a galaxy together you would have a single line that was about 16 light years long and 1 million miles wide. Or, if you prefer, if you packed all of those stars into a square box that was one star thick, the box would be about 316 million miles on a side.

    It’s almost impossible for stars to collide in a galaxy collision. Gas clouds will impact each other, however, producing new stars.

  16. Quiet_Desperation

    BTW Do galaxies get divorced?

    Yes, but the distribution of assets is rarely equitable.

    Oh! Oh! Who’s the uber geek humorist? Yes! That’s me! 😀

  17. LOVE it, Phil, great post.


  18. Mark Martin

    Asteroid Eros in that pic doesn’t look spud-shaped to me. It looks more like what I see if I look down upon my sunburned leg & foot. (My leg isn’t really sunburned; I just need some excuse for all the craters.)

  19. Hey Phil,

    Those pictures are awesome, I’m going to e-mail the mars crater ones to my wife.

    With credit given to this site of course.

  20. Joshua Zucker

    I got a very heartfelt “awww, how sweet” from my wife just for forwarding her the link to this post. Beats funding Hallmark any day! (Phil, maybe you should go into the greeting card biz? I’d buy a card with these images!)

  21. Gary Ansorge

    Ah, Love, the only known “real” magic in the universe(magic defined as something you can give away, yet still have,,,).
    Also defined(by the Dead) as something Built to Last.

    ,,,and as J.C and His swinging 12 noted,”God IS Love”.
    Seems love must be a powerful(and probably fairly recent) evolutionary construct, ingrained in our genes as a response to some powerful chemicals. Hey, whatever works to enhance survival is “good”,,,at least, for us.

    GAry 7

  22. Gary7 posts:

    [[Seems love must be a powerful(and probably fairly recent) evolutionary construct, ingrained in our genes as a response to some powerful chemicals. ]]

    Except that many cultures have not had any concept of romantic love, but married and reproduced on an economic or cultural basis. In ancient Greece, romantic love was held to be a neurosis, to be cured by having your friends hold you back from interacting with the person in question until you got over it.

    We sometimes mistake our culture’s values for biological universals.

  23. WOOT! So the two galaxies are colliding… any chance it’s the galaxies of the Edorrians an Arisians? I wanna Lens!!!

  24. PerryG

    I never thought I’d see the day that BA would start posting such erotic pictures!


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