Is That an Enterprise? 2 Nebulas Look Like 'Star Trek' Vessels

Outline of two futuristic ships on a background of stars and dust
NASA traced two "Enterprises" in the shapes of two nebulas found in the constellation Vulpecula. The image was taken in three infrared wavelengths by the Spitzer Space Telescope. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Two nebulas, or star-birth regions, spotted by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope bear a striking resemblance to the starship Enterprise, and the space agency released images of these nebulas to celebrate the 50th anniversary of "Star Trek" Thursday (Sept. 8).

Hints of the famed science-fiction vessels' shapes appear in two nebulas known as IRAS 19340+2016 and IRAS19343+2026. On the left is the original USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) from "Star Trek," and on the right is the Enterprise-D (NCC-1701-D) featured in "Star Trek: The Next Generation."

The Spitzer Space Telescope captured images of these nebulas in the constellation Vulpecula. Nebulas are known as star formation regions because they are filled with free-floating gas and dust, which clump together to eventually build young stars and star systems.

The image was acquired as part of Spitzer's infrared surveys of the Milky Way, which are called GLIMPSE and MIPSGAL. In the image, blue represents light wavelengths of 3.5 microns, green represents 8.0 microns and red is 24 microns.

"The green colors highlight organic molecules in the dust clouds, illuminated by starlight," NASA officials said in a statement. "Red colors are related to thermal radiation emitted from the very hottest areas of dust." 

Over the centuries, astronomers have used familiar objects to classify things they see in the sky — a phenomenon called pareidolia. Examples of pareidolia include constellations such as Orion, asterisms such as the Summer Triangle, and famous nebulas such as the Ant, Hourglass or Stingray."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," they added. "Spitzer's ability to peer deeper into dust clouds has revealed a myriad of stellar birthplaces like these."

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: