Mortal as I am, I know that I am born for a day. But when I follow at my pleasure the serried multitude of the stars in their circular course, my feet no longer touch the earth - Ptolemy
Babe Among the Stars - Valentine Special 2008
Possibly the most hyped-up date in the calendar, St Valentine's Day is dreaded by those who resent yet more wallet-emptying and even more so by those who are unattached, or separated from their heart's desire. However you are spending this St Valentine's Day, remember it will be all over for another year by tomorrow, when the shops will, of course, start displaying tons of chocolate Easter eggs.
Vega (alpha Lyrae) and Altair (alpha Aquilae) represent a pair of lovers in Chinese mythology, but they are separated by the arm of the Milky Way. Once each year, on the seventh day of the seventh month in the Chinese calendar, a large flock of magpies create a bridge so that the parted lovers can spend the night together. The celebration is called Qixi (literally, 'Night of Seven'), the Chinese version of our Valentine's Day, but it usually falls in August.
Venus, the 2nd planet out from the Sun, is known as the 'morning star'. Because it's so striking and beautiful, it was named after the Roman goddess of love. The ancient Greeks knew her as Aphrodite. For all the romance attached to the planet, it's a very inhospitable world, with temperatures hot enough to melt lead! Then there's the poisonous, irradiated atmosphere...so, best gazed at from afar, in a romantic spot on Earth!
Asteroid with a Heart
The most hardened soul can't fail to be impressed by the 5km heart-shaped indentation on this cosmic visitor. Asteroid Eros (what else could it possibly have been called?)
You wouldn't imagine that colliding galaxies would sound very romantic but there's something about the union of NGC 4038 and NGC 4039. The two (one pink and one blue) galaxies look like they have sailed towards each other through the vastness of space and they are now embracing with a kiss of cosmic proportions.
Heartbroken Star Cluster
There's a heart-shaped cloud of gas, probably the result of a star which exploded a very long time ago, in the Small Magellanic Cloud, a galactic near-neighbour of ours. The blobs going off either side make it look like a bleeding heart. Awwwwwwwwww!
Can you imagine a heart-shaped nebula spanning 30 light years, over 7,500 light years away? Emission nebula IC 1805 even glows bright red because it is powered by hydrogen.
Everlasting Rose Nebula
The spectacular emission nebula NGC 2237 displays an outstanding beauty, lasting much longer than an Earth rose, it's over four million years old already and, so far, not withering with age. Gazing in awe at this image, one is at once overjoyed to have the capability of sight but also saddened when reminded of the long-gone poets who never saw such a visual feast and wonder, what words would they have conjured up for this?
February phases of the Moon
- 14 Feb: First quarter
- 20/21 Feb: Full Moon (The Snow Moon) - this is a total lunar eclipse viewable from the UK so don't miss it! To begin your viewing on the night of the 20th, seek out the moon around 8pm when it will be close to Regulus, (alpha Leonis), follow through about twice as far and you will be looking at Saturn (just below the 'Sickle' asterism). With the lunar eclipse reaching totality at 3am (on the 21st), you'll need to be really dedicated to see it through.
Chat about your celestial observances at the H2G2 Astronomy Society