Cosmic Valentine

Credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech/WISE Team

Mas­sive star-making regions make up the heart and soul of the cos­mos in this image from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Sur­vey Explorer.

Explore the giant bub­bles blown by new stars in this image. What shapes and sto­ries does your imag­i­na­tion cre­ate? Leave a mes­sage below.

The huge bub­bles dom­i­nate both neb­ula. Hot, new stars blast the sur­round­ing gas and dust clouds with ultra­vi­o­let radi­a­tion and solar winds. These winds carve out hol­lows in the cloud and drive gas and dust clouds together. When enough of this star-making stuff col­lects in one spot, grav­ity pulls it together and it could light up and become a star. With infrared sen­sors, WISE can peer deep into the cold star clouds and show sci­en­tists warm areas that might be the for­ma­tion of new stars. These glow­ing spots of light in the dust are just a few mil­lion years old.

Toward the bot­tom of the image you’ll notice a cou­ple of blue smudges of light. These are Maf­fei 1 and 2. These galax­ies are only about 10 mil­lion light-years from Earth and lie within the gen­eral neigh­bor­hood of our Milky Way Galaxy. Maf­fei 1 is the bluish ellip­ti­cal galaxy to the right. Maf­fei 2, to the left, is a spi­ral galaxy sim­i­lar to the Milky Way.

The Heart Neb­ula, to the right, was named because it resem­bled a human heart. The neb­ula is also known as IC 1805. The Soul Neb­ula, the large bub­ble to the left, is also known as the Embryo Neb­ula, IC 1848 and W5. Both neb­ula span nearly 680 light-years across. Both neb­u­lae are found about 6,000 light-years from Earth toward the con­stel­la­tion Casseopeia, the Queen. They are part of the Perseus Spi­ral Arm in our Milky Way Galaxy just a bit far­ther out from the cen­ter of the galaxy than the spi­ral arm that con­tains our solar system.

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The ancient peo­ples saw pic­tures in the sky. From those pat­terns in the heav­ens, ancient sto­ry­tellers cre­ated leg­ends about heroes, maid­ens, drag­ons, bears, cen­taurs, dogs and myth­i­cal crea­tures…
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