Even the stars celebrate the holiday season. A new image of NGC 2264, also known as the Christmas Tree Cluster, has been released by NASA, and it’s absolutely stunning. The folks behind processing the image even painted the gas and dust around the cluster green, giving it the appearance of a freshly cut Christmas tree sitting upright in the cosmos.
NGC 2264 is a cluster of young stars located 2,500 light-years away from Earth. The cluster is estimated to include stars between the ages of one to five million years old, with some stars bigger than our Sun while others are smaller. NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory recently imaged the cluster.
Optical data of the Christmas Tree Cluster was also taken from the National Science Foundation’s WIYN 0.9-meter telescope on Kitt Peak, and that data shows the gas in the nebula in a beautiful green color, giving the cluster the appearance of pine needles on a tree. That data was combined with the observations made by the Chandra X-ray observatory, and the below image was created.
Usually, the cluster rests more on its side, but the image was rotated 160 degrees from the astronomer standard of North, pointing upward to give the cluster an authentic tree appearance.
The young stars found in clusters like NGC 2264 are volatile and produce intense flares in X-rays, NASA explains in its image reveal. The editors behind the new image also created a composite image that shows blinking variations of some of the stars, which only solidifies the look of a Christmas tree as the stars blink on and off like Christmas lights.
NASA also recently used data from Chandra to produce an image of an eerie ghost hand in space, and the X-ray telescope has continued to be a vital resource in astronomers’ search through the cosmos. This newest image of the Christmas Tree Cluster is just the latest in Chandra’s successes, and it continues to show just how beautiful the universe can be.