Christmas Tree Nebula
December 23, 2009
The phenomenon of pareidolia is perhaps most often encountered when gazing at the night sky. Groups of stars often take on the appearance of familiar objects; however, sometimes a lot of imagination is required. The Christmas Tree Cluster (NGC 2264) is the bright, open cluster of stars in the center of the image. In the Northern Hemisphere this festive deep sky object lies due south on crisp, winter evenings. It sits in a region of emission nebulosity, which includes the famous Cone Nebula (towards the bottom). Both the Christmas Tree Cluster and the Cone Nebula are in the constellation of Monoceros, found just to the east of Orion. This cluster is approximately 2,500 light years away and was discovered by William Herschel in 1784. At bottom right is an object that looks like a small comet. This is Hubble's Variable Nebula (Caldwell 46, NGC2261), which also lies 2,500 light years distant and was similarly discovered by William Herschel in 1783.
Photo details: Image was captured using a Celestron 11" (27 cm) reflector telescope, with a Hyperstar III attachment, by Greg Parker from the New Forest Observatory in the U.K. It was processed by Noel Carboni in Florida, U.S.A.
Coordinates for New Forest Observatory: N50.819444, W1.59