Letter from the President - February 2021

Original article appears in GuideStar February, 2021.

by: Joe Khalaf

HAS President

Observing Valentine’s Day

When I think of February, I think of Valentine’s Day two weeks into the month.  Actually, if I’m being completely honest, I probably end up dreading Valentine’s Day more than anything other “holiday” there is.  On February 14th, I run around town trying to pick up roses, chocolates, perfume, jewelry, or anything else that’s readily available in the shortest amount of time possible, because, as usual, I wait until the last minute to buy these gifts.  Also, because I have a young daughter, I’ve got to pick up a gift for her, too.  And not to be left out, my 11-year-old son will likely want chocolates, as well.  I think the holiday card companies knew they needed to inject some anxiety in a period where there was very little in the later winter months.

Val Heart.png

So while we probably won’t be able to avoid the commercial aspect of Valentine’s Day, there is a free resource to we all have access to that we can share with loved ones on this day – the heavens above!  Sure, most of us are familiar with books, movies, or TV shows that use the full moon to set the scene for a romantic night, but with a telescope, there are other “romantic” celestial objects you can share with your significant other.  Here are a few:


The Rosette Nebula

While trying to secure a vase with a dozen roses in your vehicle can be a bit of a challenge, there is a rose (a “rosette,” more specifically) that costs a lot less and doesn’t wilt after 5 days.  A view of the Rosette Nebula, located in the constellation Monoceros, combines both a cluster of stars and a nebula in the eyepiece.  Think of it as a rose with diamonds “sprinkled” on it.  The glowing “red” area is an H II region approximately 5,000 light years away and spans an area about 130 light years across.  That’s much more impressive than a dozen roses, if you ask me!

Image by Francescodib licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.


The Heart Nebula

Sure you’ve dedicated your heart to your loved one, but want to prove it?  Show them the Heart Nebula!

The Heart Nebula is an emission nebula discovered by William Herschel over 200 years ago, and sits almost 7,500 light years away (about 50% further away than the Rosette Nebula).  Because of the distance, this object is rather dim, so be sure to observe it under some very dark skies.

Image by Byronmhome licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

The Necklace Nebula

So you missed out on the opportunity to buy your significant other jewelry this time around...Don’t fret – you can always give them a necklace (well, the Necklace Nebula, to be more specific).  The Necklace Nebula is a planetary nebula that’s twice as far away as the Heart Nebula, and was formed by the explosion of a star.  Located in the constellation Saggita, the Necklace Nebula the object gets its shape from the gasses being flung off due to the rapid rotation of the primary star being sped up by it’s fast-orbiting companion star.  You can tell your loved one that your heart beats just as rapidly when you see them, too!

Image credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Now while we won’t likely be able to avoid having to buy Valentine’s Day gifts for our significant others, a night under the stars observing these objects will surely make for a memory you and your loved one will likely remember for a long time.  Make time in February to observe these and other celestial delights this month!


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