See the hearts trapped in the cosmos

There’s a lot to love about space, from awe-inspiring alien landscapes to distant cosmic wonders. Over the years, images from spacecraft and telescopes have given us ample evidence that space loves us!

Love letters from Mars

For nearly a decade, NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor orbited the fourth planet from the Sun, mapping its surface and returning an incredible stream of images. The data provided by the spacecraft has been an invaluable resource for scientists studying the world and planning future exploration missions.

Also embedded in this stream of images were a series of small messages of love from the Red Planet to us on Earth.

Hearts of Mars Collage-NASA-MGS-PIA05296

Hearts of Mars Collage-NASA-MGS-PIA05296

This collage shows images taken from 2000 to 2003 by the Mars Orbiter Camera aboard the Mars Global Surveyor. Credit: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems

The heart-shaped features shown above are various mesas and depressions on the Martian surface that caught the mission team’s attention. More information on the location and size of each can be found on the NASA JPL website.

Although these are all naturally occurring formations sculpted by water and wind over thousands of years, they still show why we love Mars so much.

Eros, the asteroid of love

Like many objects in our solar system, asteroid 433 Eros was named after a Greek god. It wasn’t until the space rock discovered in 1989 was visited by NASA’s NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft in 2000 that we discovered how appropriate it was to name the asteroid after the God of Love.

Eros Heart Nigh 20000211b-NASA-GSFC-JHUAPL

Eros Heart Nigh 20000211b-NASA-GSFC-JHUAPL

This image from the NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft, taken on February 11, 2000, shows an oddly shaped feature on the surface of asteroid 433 Eros. Photo credit: NASA GSFC/JHU APL

“Just in time for Valentine’s Day with 433 Eros, the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) spacecraft captured this photo during its approach to the 21-mile-long space rock,” NASA said. “The image was taken on February 11, 2000 from a distance of 1,609 miles (2,590 kilometers) and shows a heart-shaped depression approximately 3 miles (5 kilometers) long.”

Subsequent images of the asteroid showed the top two lobes of the “heart” as small impact craters, while the rest of the shape resulted from the play of light and shadow over a cratered depression in the asteroid’s surface.

The icy heart of Pluto

Before the New Horizons spacecraft flew past Pluto in 2015, there was no telling how much the tiny dwarf planet loves us.

During the flyby, the NASA mission provided stunning images of a vast plane of frozen nitrogen, methane and carbon monoxide known today as Sputnik Planitia.



This false-color composite image shows Pluto and Charon as seen by the New Horizons spacecraft on its approach and flyby in 2015. The images’ high-contrast color scheme highlights Pluto’s heart-shaped ice formation, Sputnik Planitia. Photo credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

According to NASA, this heart-shaped nitrogen glacier is about 1,000 kilometers wide, making it the largest known glacier in the solar system!

Who knew that one of the most distant icy members of the solar system would have the largest heart of any planet?!

With love, from the sun

The sun’s light and warmth make life possible on this world (literally, otherwise it would be a frozen ball of ice). However, every now and then the magnetism of the star gives us a little love.



This extreme ultraviolet view of the Sun was captured on February 1, 2013 by the Solar Dynamics Observatory. The left image shows a close-up of the “coronal heart” formed that day. Photo credit: NASA SDO

The image above filters out all light from the sun except for a certain wavelength of ultraviolet radiation (211 angstroms), revealing activity in the corona, the sun’s atmosphere. Here, magnetic fields generated by the boiling, electrically charged plasma that makes up the star’s surface create vortices, loops, and arcs. The dark spots show where entanglements in these magnetic fields have opened holes in the corona, exposing the slightly cooler surface below to space.

On February 1, 2013, one of these coronal holes opened up in the shape of a heart, creating a “magnetic valentine” that slowly swept across the face of the sun.

The heart and soul of space

About 6,000 light-years away, in the galaxy’s Perseus Arm, lies a pair of nebulae that represent the heart and soul of the Milky Way.

Heart-and-Soul Nebula-NASA-WISE-PIA13112

Heart-and-Soul Nebula-NASA-WISE-PIA13112

The Heart and Soul Nebulae imaged by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

To the right of the image above is the Heart Nebula, so named because it resembles a human heart.

To the left is the Soul Nebula, also known as the Embryo Nebula, but when flipped over, this conglomeration of gas and dust looks more like a Valentine’s Day depiction of a heart.

Heart and Soul Nebula W5 NASA JPL Caltech Harvard SmithsonianCfA

Heart and Soul Nebula W5 NASA JPL Caltech Harvard SmithsonianCfA

This view of the Soul Nebula, rotated 180 degrees from the view in the previous image, shows its resemblance to a Valentine’s heart. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

According to NASA: “Both nebulae are massive star-making factories, characterized by huge bubbles blown from the stars into the surrounding dust by radiation and winds. WISE’s infrared vision makes it possible to see into the cooler and dustier crevices of clouds like these, where gas resides and dust is just starting to accumulate into new stars. These stars are less than a few million years old—juveniles compared to stars like the Sun, which is almost 5 billion years old.”

2 become 1

About 45 million light-years away is what may be the greatest expression of love in the local universe.

Antennae Galaxy Heart - Hubble

Antennae Galaxy Heart – Hubble

This image, taken in 2016 by the Hubble Space Telescope, shows the Antennae galaxies, two spiral galaxies that are about to merge due to their mutual gravitational pull. Brilliant blue regions dot the image and indicate where intense star formation is occurring. Image credits: NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration; B. Whitmore (Space Telescope Science Institute)

Named for the two long antennae-like structures that extend from the pair (and well beyond the edges of the image above), the Antennae galaxies began interacting hundreds of millions of years ago.

When the two merge, they trigger a creation spurt. Billions of new stars are being born, no doubt forming a dizzying array of different planetary systems.

According to NASA: “They give us a preview of what could happen when our Milky Way collides with the neighboring Andromeda galaxy billions of years from now.”

(Thumbnail image of the Soul Nebula courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA. A pink heart was superimposed over the image to emphasize the nebula’s valentine shape.)

See below: Is that a bear on Mars? NASA discovers a similar rock formation

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