Planetary Nebula Sh2-174
Planetary Nebula Sh2-174 Image Credit: T.A. Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage) and H. Schweiker (WIYN and NOAO/AURA/NSF)

It isn't just the human race that celebrates Valentine's Day... the universe does too. A photograph released by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory revealed a strange nebula, far away in space, resembling a red rose.

The image was released on Wednesday and to a mind with a little romantic imagination, it does look like a blurry image of a red space flower. However, it is actually an odd planetary nebula called Sh2-174.

A planetary nebula is the gas and dust surrounding an aging star. There are actually no planets in a nebula. When a star is in the final stages of its life cycle, it starts collapsing in on itself. In the process, it emits gasses and clouds of red and blue colours.

According to, over the next five billion years even the Sun will start to collapse and in the process will create a planetary nebula. A note on the Web site reads:

"At the end of its lifetime, the Sun will swell up into a red giant, expanding out beyond the orbit of Venus. As it burns through its fuel, it will eventually collapse. The outer layers will be ejected in a shell of gas that will last a few tens of thousands of years before spreading into the vastness of space. The small core, a newly formed white dwarf, will illuminate those layers in a dazzling, predominantly blue-green display."

The term "planetary nebula" was coined by William Herschel, a German-born British astronomer.

According to the Web site, about 10,000 nebulas exist in the Milky Way, although only about 1,500 of them have been detected.