An astronomer based at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile’s northern Atacama Desert photographed a neon pink light wrapped around the Milky Way galaxy in the shape of a love heart.
Released on Valentine’s Day, the photo is the work of scientist and passionate space photographer Julien Girard, who works on an adaptive optics system on the Very Large Telescope‘s Unit Telescope 4.
Girard’s experience of using adjustable mirrors to filter out the interference of Earth’s atmosphere during night sky observations inspired him to create the image – although he did so using technology that was a little less space age.
“Girard drew the heart in the air by shining a tiny flashlight keychain at the camera during a 25-second exposure with a tripod,” ESO officials said as they unveiled the photo on Monday.
The photograph shows the flawlessly clear night sky above ESO’s Paranal Observatory, with the center of the Milky Way forming the beating heart of the image.
Several stars from the Southern Crown constellation (or the Corona Australis) form a tiara-like arc of jeweled lights across the top of the heart’s left lobe, while an eerie glow on the bottom left hand side of the heart is a phenomenon caused by dust particles scattering sunlight, called zodiacal light.
Perched atop the mountain Cerro Paranal, Girard’s workplace – the Very Large Telescope facility – can be seen on the far right of the image, silhouetted against the night sky.
And for those with an eye for detail, the headlights of a car making the winding trip down from the mountain facility can also be vaguely made out.
Aside from important discoveries about the origins of the universe, Atacama’s international observatories are a constant source of incredible images and footage. To see more, click here.