The Heart Nebula on Valentine’s Day

Posted by David Eicher
on Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Check out this fantastic image from legendary astrophotographer Jack Newton. It shows a well-known region in Cassiopeia that contains two large, faint emission nebulae, IC 1848 (left) and IC 1805. These objects are enormous factories whose gas is coalescing into new stars, producing clusters you can see within the nebulosity. At right, IC 1805 is often called the Heart Nebula (if you tilt your head to the left you’ll see the nebula’s looping “heart” shape). Just to make a good pair, IC 1848 is sometimes called the Soul Nebula.

Jack Newton
The prominent star cluster within the Heart Nebula is Melotte 15, which contains about 30 stars. Just left of the nebula is another open cluster, NGC 1027, which holds about 25 stars. The bright knot of red nebulosity above and to the right of the Heart Nebula is IC 1795, a detached emission region. These nebulae and clusters lie at a distance of about 6,500 light-years.

There’s so much going on in this photo that it’s obvious the region makes for a great area to explore with your telescope. You’ll see the star clusters well with just about any scope, but the two nebulae have low surface brightnesses — that is, little individual parts of them are quite faint, even though their total magnitude is pretty bright. So, seeing them visually requires a large telescope and a dark sky.

As if this weren’t enough, two famous interlopers are hiding in this photo. If you look at a full-screen version of this photo, you’ll see two tiny reddish spots of nebulosity below and between the two big nebulae. These are two nearby small galaxies that are heavily obscured by the Milky Way’s dust that lies in front of them — Maffei 1 and Maffei 2. Discovered in 1968, Maffei 1 is the brighter of the two, appearing below the Heart Nebula, halfway to the bottom edge of the frame. Maffei 2 is smaller and fainter yet and lies to the left of Maffei 1. These galaxies lie about 13.7 million light-years (Maffei 1) and 13.4 million light-years away (Maffei 2).

Tags: Nebulae
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