The Heart and Soul Nebula.

Cosmic Valentines

  • 8th Feb 2024
  • Author: Catherine Muller

When thinking about Valentine’s day, the cold, dark, infinite expanse of space may not be the first thing that comes to mind. However, our Universe can actually be a source of romantic inspiration, from humble date night, to wedding venue, to honeymoon destination.

Love among the Stars

If you’re planning on a romantic stargazing trip this Valentine’s Day, here’s some of the night sky’s most romantic spots.

  1. The Heart Nebula.
    ESA/Hubble & NASA

    The Heart Nebula

    The heart of the night sky is located in the constellation Cassiopeia, in the form of the Heart Nebula (IC 1805). First discovered by astronomer William Herschel in 1787, the Heart Nebula is formed of ionised oxygen and sulphur gas. In its centre is an open cluster of stars 50 times the mass of the Sun, and stellar winds coming from these stars that have created the nebula’s distinctive heart shape. 

  2. The Soul Nebula.

    The Soul Nebula

    A heart would not be complete without a soul, and as such we can spot the Soul Nebula (IC 1848) in the night sky too, also located in the constellation Cassiopeia. Within this nebula are a few open clusters of stars which carve out the mysterious shape of the soul through the power of radiation. Located 6500 lightyears from Earth, the Soul Nebula is 150 lightyears across and is often photographed alongside the Heart Nebula.

  3. The Rosette Nebula.
    John Corban & the ESA/ESO/NASA Photoshop FITS Liberator

    The Rosette Nebula

    If you’re looking for an interstellar gift this Valentine’s Day, look no further than the Rosette Nebula (NCG 2237), the Universe’s rose. From the UK this nebula can only be spotted in winter, and is located in the constellation Monoceros, 5000 lightyears from Earth. 10,000 times more massive than the Sun, there are approximately 2500 young stars located within the Rosette Nebula. Two of these are massive, blue-white stars responsible for producing the shape of the nebula.

Cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko in space

The Ultimate Wedding Venue

If you’re looking for more than just a cute date, space can also be host to the most romantic of occasions, a wedding.

On 10 August 2003, the International Space Station hosted the wedding of cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko. Orbiting 390km above planet Earth, Malenchenko connected to his wedding with Ekaterina Dmitriev, who was located in Texas, via video link. Fellow astronaut Edward Lu was Malenchenko’s  best man, and played the wedding march on a keyboard. Malenchenko even wore a bow tie over his flight suit, had a ring sent up to the ISS with him and sealed the deal by blowing a kiss to his wife down on Earth.

Spouses in space

Malenchenko’s wedding was allowed to take place as Texas law allows for a wedding to be legal as long as one party has a valid reason for not being present. Flying in space is, of course, the ultimate reason. In addition, Malenchenkov’s wife was down on Earth- NASA does not allow for married couples to fly together in space.

This is largely due to astronauts Mark Lee and Jan Davis, the first and only married couple to fly together in space. The two met during training for the space shuttle mission STS-47 and kept their romance quiet, as NASA had an unwritten rule that spouses would not be assigned to the same mission.

The couple married, and when NASA officials found this out in January 1991, it was too late for an alternate astronaut to be trained for the mission. Lee and Davis were allowed to fly together, and the unwritten rule became written immediately after. As a result, to this day, Lee and Davis are the only married couple to have visited space together. An exclusive honeymoon destination if there ever was one.

Full references / credits:

(Banner image) The Heart and Soul Nebula. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

(1a) The Heart Nebula. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA

(1b) The Soul Nebula. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Harvard-Smithsonian

(1c) The Rosette Nebula. Credit: John Corban & the ESA/ESO/NASA Photoshop FITS Liberator

(2) Cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko in space. Credit: NASA

(3a) Astronaut Jan Davis. Credit: NASA

(3b) Astronaut Mark C. Lee. Credit: NASA