Just in time for the 50th anniversary of the TV series Star Trek – created by writer and producer Gene Roddenberry – the Spitzer Space Telescope gives us this image of two nebulae that resemble the legendary starship Enterprise.
Star Trek first aired September 8,1966.
NASA said in a statement:
On the right of the image, with a little scrutiny, you may see hints of the saucer and hull of the original USS Enterprise, captained by James T. Kirk, as if it were emerging from a dark nebula. To the left, its Next Generation successor, Jean-Luc Picard’s Enterprise-D, flies off in the opposite direction …
Astronomically speaking, the region pictured in the image falls within the disk of our Milky Way galaxy and displays two regions of star formation hidden behind a haze of dust when viewed in visible light. Spitzer’s ability to peer deeper into dust clouds has revealed a myriad of stellar birthplaces like these, which are officially known only by their catalog numbers, IRAS 19340+2016 and IRAS19343+2026.
Trekkies, however, may prefer using the more familiar designations NCC-1701 and NCC-1701-D.
Imaging familiar objects while gazing at unrelated objects is called pareidolia. The constellations themselves are examples of it, as are many other well-known star clusters nebulae including the Beehive and the Lagoon.
Bottom line: NASA’s Spitzer space telescope has provided an infrared image of two nebulae resembling Star Trek’s Enterprise.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.