NASA Spots ‘Christmas Tree’ Cluster in Space

NASA telescopes have spotted a particularly festive cluster of stars in space, in the shape of a Christmas tree.

The Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope captured images of the glowing cluster known as NGC 2264. Dubbed the Christmas Tree Cluster, it is made up of a number of young stars between one and five million years old. They are 2,500 light years away within the Milky Way.

The stars in the cluster are all different sizes. Some are one-tenth the mass of the sun, while others are seven times larger.  While the stars naturally cluster in the shape of a festive tree, astronomers have enhanced the image to make it more Christmassy.

“The new composite image of NGC 2264 enhances the resemblance to a Christmas tree through choices of color and rotation,” NASA astronomers admitted in a statement. “X-rays are presented as blue and white lights, and resemble glowing dots of light on the tree.”

Meanwhile, the wispy green lines and shapes from one of the telescopes create the boughs and needles.

An animated version of the images shows the blue and white lights blinking. They don’t actually blink in unison but have been shown that way to better see the location of the young, X-ray-emitting stars. Young stars are “volatile and produce strong flares in X-rays…at different wavelengths of light,” NASA explained.

This panchromatic view of galaxy cluster MACS0416 was created by combining infrared observations from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope with visible-light data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

The ‘Christmas Tree Galaxy Cluster’ combines infrared observations from the James Webb Space Telescope with visible-light data from the Hubble Space Telescope. Photo: NASA


A Yuletide light show

This is not the only Yuletide discovery from space. One month ago, the James Webb Telescope and Hubble Space Telescope found the Christmas Tree Galaxy Cluster. Known as MACS0416, it is 4.3 billion light years away from Earth. It is also one of the most detailed images of the universe ever seen.

“We’re calling MACS0416 the Christmas Tree Galaxy Cluster, both because it’s so colorful and because of these flickering lights we find within it,” said astronomer Haojing Yan.

The image combines infrared data taken by the James Webb Telescope and visible light observations from the Hubble Telescope. It shows a pair of colliding galaxy clusters, which will eventually combine.

Rebecca McPhee

Rebecca McPhee is a freelance writer for ExplorersWeb.

Rebecca has been writing about open water sports, adventure travel, and marine science for three years. Prior to that, Rebecca worked as an Editorial Assistant at Taylor and Francis, and a Wildlife Officer for ORCA.

Based in the UK Rebecca is a science teacher and volunteers for a number of marine charities. She enjoys open water swimming, hiking, diving, and traveling.