NASA and the Universe Send a Celestial Valentine

February 14, 2005
Celestial Valentine

The candles are lit, the champagne is on ice. All you need now are flowers and a ring. This Valentine's Day, NASA's Spitzer and Cassini spacecraft provide you with both, in two engaging new images. NASA's Cassini-Huygens mission and Spitzer Space Telescope have captured images of Saturn's rings and the Ring Nebula, respectively, to bring home spectacular views of two of the most looked-at objects in the sky. The Cassini image shows a detailed color mosaic of Saturn's shimmering rings. Spitzer imaged the outer shell of the Ring Nebula, which looks surprisingly similar to the delicate petals of a camellia blossom.

Located about 2,000 light years from Earth in the constellation Lyra, the Ring Nebula is a favorite target of amateur astronomers. Also known as Messier Object 57 and NGC 6720, it is one of the best examples of a planetary nebula, a shell of material ejected from a dying star. The "ring" is a thick cylinder of glowing gas and dust around the doomed star. As the star begins to run out of fuel, its core becomes smaller and hotter, boiling off its outer layers. The Spitzer Space Telescope's powerful infrared vision detected this material expelled from the withering star.

Previous images of the Ring Nebula taken by visible-light telescopes usually showed just the inner glowing loop of gas around the star. The outer regions are especially prominent in this new image because Spitzer sees the infrared light from hydrogen molecules. The molecules emit infrared light because they have absorbed ultraviolet radiation from the star or have been heated by the wind from the star.

Cassini's new view of Saturn's dazzling ring system, evident in a stunning natural-color mosaic, reveals the color and diversity present in this gem of the solar system. Gaps, gravitational resonances and wave patterns are all present, and the delicate color variations across the ring system are clearly visible. Named in order of discovery, the labels that scientists have assigned to the major rings do not indicate their relative positions. From the planet outward, they are known as the D, C, B, A, F, G and E rings.

The Cassini image was acquired on Dec. 12, 2004, at a distance of approximately 1.8 million kilometers (1.1 million miles). The Spitzer image was obtained on April 20, 2004.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., manages the Cassini-Huygens and Spitzer Space Telescope missions for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo. Science operations for the Spitzer Space Telescope are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at Caltech.

The new pictures are available online at www.nasa.gov/cassini , www.spitzer.caltech.edu and saturn.jpl.nasa.gov . To send these images as an e-Valentine visit the link at www.nasa.gov/jpl .

Explore further: Spitzer Space Telescope begins 'Beyond' phase

Related Stories

Spitzer Space Telescope begins 'Beyond' phase

August 26, 2016

Celebrating the spacecraft's ability to push the boundaries of space science and technology, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope team has dubbed the next phase of its journey "Beyond."

Orphaned protostars

July 25, 2016

Stars form as gravity contracts the gas and dust in an interstellar cloud until clumps develop that are dense enough to coalesce into stars. Precisely how this happens, however, is very uncertain, and the processes are hard ...

T-Tauri Stars

June 13, 2016

A newborn star typically goes through four stages of adolescence. It begins life as a protostar still enshrouded in its natal molecular cloud, accreting new material and developing a proto-planetary disc. Slowly, stellar ...

Saturn's rings in a supercomputer

August 7, 2015

Why do some planets, like Saturn or Jupiter, have rings, while others, like Earth or Mars, do not? It turns out that "size does not matter"—gas giants like Saturn are not the only bodies that can possess rings; even tiny ...

Saturn's outer ring much bigger than thought

June 11, 2015

(Phys.org)—A small team of researchers with members affiliated with the University of Maryland, the University of Virginia and Caltech, has found that the outermost ring of Saturn is much bigger than had been previously ...

One Star's Life Ends With A Ring

August 19, 2004

A new image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the shimmering embers of a dying star, and in their midst a strange doughnut-shaped ring. "Spitzer's infrared vision has revealed what could not be seen before - a massive ...

Recommended for you

First stars formed even later than previously thought

August 31, 2016

ESA's Planck satellite has revealed that the first stars in the Universe started forming later than previous observations of the Cosmic Microwave Background indicated. This new analysis also shows that these stars were the ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.