Astronomical Artistry: NASA Brings the Christmas Tree Cluster to Life

The “Christmas Tree Cluster,” NGC 2264, is a cluster of young stars in the Milky Way, about 2,500 light-years from Earth. This composite image, enhanced by specific color choices and rotation, depicts these stars, of various sizes, as part of a cosmic Christmas tree. Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO; Optical: TA Rector (NRAO/AUI/NSF and NOIRLab/NSF/AURA) and BA Wolpa (NOIRLab/NSF/AURA); Infrared: NASA/NSF/IPAC/CalTech/Univ. in Massachusetts; Image Processing: NASA/CXC/SAO/L. Frattare & J. Major

NGC 2264, the “Christmas Tree Cluster,” is a star cluster in the Milky Waywhich is illustrated by a newly developed image that resembles a cosmic Christmas tree.

  • NGC 2264 is a cluster of young stars colored and rotated to emphasize its nickname of the “Christmas Tree Cluster.”
  • This composite image contains X-rays from Chandra (blue and white), optical data from WIYN (green gas), and infrared data from 2MASS (white stars).
  • The stars in this cluster are between one and five million years old, compared to the Sun’s age of 5 billion years.
  • Young stars are volatile and produce strong flares of X-rays and other types of light, but not in any coordinated fashion as shown in the animation.

Cosmic Christmas Tree: Stellar Spectacle in NGC 2264

This new image of NGC 2264, also known as the “Christmas Tree Cluster,” shows the shape of a cosmic tree with a halo of starlight. NGC 2264 is, in fact, a cluster of young stars – between one and five million years old – in our Milky Way about 2,500 light-years away from Earth. The stars in NGC 2264 are smaller and larger than the Sun, ranging from some with less than one-tenth the mass of the Sun to others with about seven solar masses.

A Festive Composite Image: Colors and Rotation

This new composite image enhances the similarity of the Christmas tree through color choices and rotation. The blue and white lights (flashing in the animated version – see video below) are young stars emitting X-rays found in inThe Chandra X-ray Observatory. Optical data from the WIYN 0.9-meter telescope supported by the National Science Foundation on Kitt Peak shows a gas nebula in the cluster in green, which corresponds to the “pine needles” of the tree. Finally, infrared data from the Two Micron All Sky Survey show foreground and background stars in white. This image is rotated to the right by 160 degrees from the astronomical standard of North pointing up, so that it appears that the top of the tree is at the top of the image.


This composite image shows the Christmas Tree Cluster. The blue and white lights (flashing in the animated version of this image) are young stars emitting X-rays detected by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. Optical data from the National Science Foundation’s WIYN 0.9-meter telescope on Kitt Peak shows the nebula’s gas in green, which corresponds to the “pine needles” of a tree, and infrared data from the Two Micron All Sky Survey shows the foreground and background. stars in white. This image is rotated back to the right by about 160 degrees from the astronomical standard of North pointing up, so that it appears that the top of the tree is at the top of the image.

Stellar Dynamics and Observation Techniques

Young stars, such as those in NGC 2264, evolve quickly and produce strong X-ray flares and other types of changes that can be seen at different wavelengths of light. The coordinated, twinkling contrasts shown in this animation, however, are artificial, to emphasize the locations of the X-ray-visible stars and emphasize the similarity of this object to a Christmas tree. In fact the differences in the stars are not coincidental.

The differences observed by Chandra and other telescopes are due to many different processes. Some of this has to do with activity involving magnetic fields, including flares like those experienced by the Sun – but more powerful – and hot spots and dark regions on the surface of stars that enter and are not seen while the stars revolve. There may also be changes in the thickness of the gas covering the stars, and changes in the amount of material still falling onto the stars from the surrounding gas disks.

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center manages the Chandra program. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory’s Chandra X-ray Center controls science operations from Cambridge, Massachusetts, and flight operations from Burlington, Massachusetts.


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Image Source : scitechdaily.com

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