NASA releases images of 'Christmas Tree' star cluster

Even thousands of light-years away from Earth, there are clusters of stars that get into the Christmas spirit. Images released by NASA this week show a cluster of stars from the NGC 2264 cluster glowing in bright green, blue and white lights across its Milky Way sky.

Commonly referred to as a “Christmas tree cluster,” this formation has a faintly triangular base and trunks that flare out at its sides, its structure resembling the popular Norway spruce, which has become a holiday staple and tradition.

NASA researchers have compiled data from two telescopes — including the agency's own Chandra X-ray Observatory and the National Science Foundation's Wisconsin-Indiana-Yale-NOAO (WIYN) Observatory — to show the pine green cluster. Using infrared data from the Two Micron All Sky Survey, the astronomical survey of the sky in infrared light brought the stars within the cluster to life with glowing blue and white spots. To better stand out as a Christmas tree, the image is rotated 160 degrees from its original north point.

The nebula, a cloud of dust and gas in space, is located about 2,500 light-years away in the constellation Monoceros, a faint galaxy on the celestial equator. According to NASA research. Many of the stars in the NGC 2264 formation are both smaller and more massive than the Sun, some less than one-tenth the mass of the Sun.

See the cosmic 'bones' of a dead star captured by NASA

The formation was discovered in the 1780s by German-British astronomer William Herschel and is seven light-years across. The surrounding region is where new stars are forming, which have gradually eroded the nebula over millions of years, according to NASA.

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There are countless nebulae that resemble objects or animals, such as jellyfish, owls, and an elephant's trunk. Known as NGC 6302 formation in the constellation Scorpius Butterfly Nebula For its flapping gas clouds resembling wings.

Scientists often study nebulae and their magnetic fields, which can be created by particles inside a star, to analyze their behavior, especially what happens when stars reach the end of their lives and evolve into nebulae.

Magnetic fields generated from NASA's Chandra X-ray telescopes have helped produce images of an eerie purple and white arm from the nebula of a supergiant star 16,000 light-years from Earth that has collapsed into a neutron star. A NASA news release.

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