It’s Valentine’s Day and nothing says “I love you” like an image of a planetary nebula that looks like a gaseous rose glowing in outer space.
The planetary nebula Sh2-174, pictured in the color composite image above, is a star in the process of losing is its outer layers at the end of its life. This phase usually lasts for 10,000 years before it fades out, leaving only the core of the star, known as the white dwarf, behind.
Although 10,000 years may seem like a long time to us, for a star that might have a lifespan of 10 billion years, the planetary nebula stage is just a blip.
Sh2-174 is a bit unusual because the white dwarf is not in the center of the planetary nebula where you would expect it to be, but rather off to the right. It’s the very blue star in the middle of the blue cloud of gas.
This image was created by Travis Rector, an astronomy professor at the University of Alaska. He collected the data for the image over two nights at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Tucson.
The National Optical Astronomy Observatory released the image this week in honor of Valentine’s Day.
In an email to the Los Angeles Times, Rector said the primary purpose of his side project was to “share with the public what our telescopes can see.” Think of it as a Valentine from science.