Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2003 February 14
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The Heart in NGC 346
Credit: Y.Nazé (Université de Liège) et al., CXC, NASA

Explanation: Yes, it's Valentine's Day (!) and looking toward star cluster NGC 346 in our neighboring galaxy the Small Magellanic Cloud, astronomers have noted this heart-shaped cloud of hot, x-ray emitting gas in the cluster's central region. The false-color Chandra Observatory x-ray image also shows a strong x-ray source just above the heart-shaped cloud which corresponds to HD 5980, a remarkable, massive binary star system that lies within the cluster. HD 5980 has been known to undergo dramatic brightness variations, in 1994 briefly outshining all other stars in the Small Magellanic Cloud, and has been likened to the luminous, eruptive variable star Eta Carinae in our own Milky Way galaxy. At about 100 light-years across, NGC 346's heart-shaped cloud is probably the result of an ancient supernova explosion. Alternatively it may have been produced during past eruptions from the HD 5980 system, analogous to the nebula associated with Eta Carinae.

Tomorrow's picture: have a party

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