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Twinkling Stars Form Cosmic Christmas Tree

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Dec 22, 2023

The holiday season has arrived in deep space with new images revealing a cluster of young, blazing stars that resemble a cosmic Christmas tree. Captured by various telescopes including NASA’s Hubble and Chandra space observatories, this festive phenomenon sparkles across the darkness of space.

Festive Formation Spotted by Hubble and Chandra

The Christmas Tree Cluster, as it has been nicknamed, is an open star cluster located in the constellation Monoceros about 2,500 light-years from Earth. Officially named NGC 2264, this region contains several hundred stars that formed from the same giant molecular cloud about five million years ago.

The newest images show the cluster being illuminated by both optical and X-ray light. Hubble’s view captures the twinkling optical light of stars set against the black vastness of space. Meanwhile, Chandra’s X-ray vision spotlights the hottest, most energetic regions around the stellar nursery.

“When we look at the Christmas Tree Cluster with our own eyes, we only see the visible light from stars,” said Dr. Patricia Boyd, an astronomer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “But by using both Hubble and Chandra, we get a more complete understanding of the cluster, seeing both the stars and the energetic outflows from newly forming stars.”

Telescope Wavelength What’s Spotlighted
Hubble Space Telescope Optical Visible light from stars
Chandra X-ray Observatory X-ray Energetic regions around newborn stars

By combining the data, astronomers get unparalleled views of stellar nurseries like the Christmas Tree and gain insight into the beginnings of star formation.

A Bounty of Baby Stars

At the heart of the Christmas Tree Cluster lies an area brimming with stellar infants. Sparkling strands of nebulous gas wrap around the nebula, which Hubble illuminates in red and infrared light emitted by ions and molecules.

Chandra’s X-ray vision offers another perspective, highlighting a band of powerful shock waves plowing through surrounding gas. These shocks are created as jets and winds blast out from the surfaces of newborn stars, crashing into material and heating it up to millions of degrees.

“The Christmas Tree Cluster contains some of the youngest known stars,” explained Dr. Boyd. “We can directly observe their earliest stages of formation. Capturing both the optical and X-ray light allows us to study how these baby stars grow.”

By studying stellar nurseries like NGC 2264 in multiple wavelengths of light, astronomers gain understanding into the full lifecycle of stars. This aids in learning about our own Sun’s origins as well as the evolution of galaxies across cosmic time.

Decking the Historic Halls

The festively nicknamed Christmas Tree Cluster has been known since at least 1654, when it was spotted by Italian Jesuit astronomer, Giovanni Battista Hodierna. Charles Messier then independently rediscovered it in 1764, including it in his famous catalog of deep-sky objects. Messier described the cluster as a “nebulous mass, shaped like a triangle.”

Sir William Herschel and his sister Caroline later observed NGC 2264 in the late 1700s,resolving it into separate stars through larger telescopes. Caroline then recognized and cataloged the cluster’s brightest star, which she named S Monocerotis and is now known as 15 Monocerotis.

Modern studies have shown 15 Monocerotis to be highly variable in brightness due to surrounding dust and gas frequently eclipsing the star. This dust probably originated from the star itself expelling matter outward in the recent past.

More Cosmic Wonders Revealed

In the seasonal spirit, NASA’s powerful telescopes have unveiled more holiday eye candy from deep space. New Webb and Hubble views showcase nearby galaxy NGC 628 festively decked out with lanes of dust, bright stellar nurseries, and glowing regions of star formation that resemble ornaments hanging from the cosmic tree.

Another festive feature is the “snow globe” cluster of stars, which lies near the Christmas Tree in the Monceros constellation. It appears as if a giant starry snow globe was shaken to create swirling dust patterns streaked with newborn stars.

As NASA gears up for more detailed studies enabled by their recently launched megascopes, potentially many more festive phenomena await discovery across our vast and mysteriously beautiful universe.

So during this holiday season, take a moment to step outside and gaze skyward. Somewhere out there among the stars, a sparkling cosmic Christmas tree is shining its festive light across the darkness of space.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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