'Christmas Tree Cluster' of Stars Revealed by NASA Mission

Astronomers using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory have released new images of the „Christmas Tree Cluster.”

Arriving just in time for the holidays, they show the shape of a cosmic tree within an open star cluster called NGC 2264, about 2,500 light-years from the Solar System in the Monoceros galaxy in the Milky Way galaxy.

This composite image, below, shows an animated version of the Christmas tree cluster, where its blue and white X-ray lights flash:

In the dark sky

Bright and well-positioned in December, NGC 2264 lies in the hollow of the night sky between Orion and Betelgeuse, the bright red star in blue Procyon in Canis Minor. That's because there's a lot of interstellar dust here. About 80 stars in NGC 2264 can be seen with binoculars—all between one and five million years old—but you'll need a very dark sky.

The cluster contains stars of different sizes. Some are smaller than our Sun, while others are much larger. These stars range in mass from one-tenth to seven times that of our Sun.

Christmas Mixes

All the images here are deliberately enhanced, the image color and rotation have been changed to make it look like a Christmas tree. It is rotated by 160 degrees to place the top of the conical tree at the top of the image.

Optical data are green for tree branches and needles, infrared data are stars and X-ray data are blue and white lights that resemble points of light shining on the tree. If you go Chandra websiteYou can switch between the four wavelengths of light that make up the composite image.

The X-ray (blue and white) data came from Chandra and took five days, 17 hours and 26 minutes to collect. Chandra was launched from space shuttle Columbia in 1999.

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.

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