Astronomy Now Online
Home Magazine Sky Chart Resources Store


Top Stories


Dark energy’s galactic stranglehold seen

...the mysterious, space-stretching force known as dark energy, which is accelerating the expansion of the Universe, could also be inhibiting the development of galaxies...

read more

Water found 11 billion light years away

...the most distant occurrence of water yet seen in the Universe is in a galaxy more than 11 billion light years from Earth...

read more

Phoenix site may be in dry climate cycle phase

...NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander could have visited the Red Planet during a particularly dry phase of climate...

read more



Spaceflight Now +



Subscribe to Spaceflight Now Plus for access to our extensive video collections!
How do I sign up?
Video archive

STS-120 day 2 highlights

Flight Day 2 of Discovery's mission focused on heat shield inspections. This movie shows the day's highlights.

 Play

STS-120 day 1 highlights

The highlights from shuttle Discovery's launch day are packaged into this movie.

 Play

STS-118: Highlights

The STS-118 crew, including Barbara Morgan, narrates its mission highlights film and answers questions in this post-flight presentation.

 Full presentation
 Mission film

STS-120: Rollout to pad

Space shuttle Discovery rolls out of the Vehicle Assembly Building and travels to launch pad 39A for its STS-120 mission.

 Play

Dawn leaves Earth

NASA's Dawn space probe launches aboard a Delta 2-Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral to explore two worlds in the asteroid belt.

 Full coverage

Dawn: Launch preview

These briefings preview the launch and science objectives of NASA's Dawn asteroid orbiter.

 Launch | Science

Become a subscriber
More video



A Christmas cluster

BY DR EMILY BALDWIN

ASTRONOMY NOW

Posted: 23 December, 2008

The festive season has arrived for astronomers at the European Southern Observatory, in the form of a spectacular image of NGC 2264, which includes the sparkling blue baubles of the Christmas Tree star cluster.

It was William Herschel who discovered NGC 2264 in the late 18th century, in the somewhat obscure constellation of Monoceros the Unicorn located around 2,600 light years away, not far from the more familiar outline of Orion the Hunter.

The cluster is extremely bright and can easily be seen with binoculars, but with a small telescope the stars resemble the glittering lights on a Christmas tree. The dazzling star at the top of the ‘tree’ is bright enough to be seen with the unaided eye and is a massive multiple star system that only emerged from the surrounding dust and gas a few million years ago.

NGC 2264 with its Christmas Tree Cluster, Cone Nebula, Fox Fur Nebula, star forming regions and more besides. Image: ESO.

As well as the Christmas Tree Cluster there is a feast of other intriguing structures embedded within the gas and dust. At the bottom of the frame is the dark triangular feature of the Cone Nebula, a region of molecular gas flooded by the harsh light of the brightest cluster members. And at the top right of the image a patch of gas displays a curious fur-like texture that has led to the name Fox Fur Nebula.

Much of the image appears red because the huge clouds of gas are glowing under the intense ultraviolet light streaming from energetic hot young stars. The stars themselves appear blue as they are hotter, younger and more massive than our own Sun. Some of this blue light is scattered by dust, as seen in the upper part of the image.

This fascinating region forms an ideal laboratory for studying how stars are born, and the entire area shown here is just a small 30 light year wide part of an even greater cloud of molecular gas that is in the process of spawning the next generation of stars. In the region between the tip of the Cone Nebula and the brightest star at the top of the picture there are several stellar birthing grounds where young stars are forming. There is even evidence of the intense stellar winds from these youthful embryos blasting out the hidden stars in the making.

 

Happy Christmas!

Hubble Reborn
Hubble Reborn takes the reader on a journey through the Universe with spectacular full-colour pictures of galaxies, nebulae, planets and stars as seen through Hubble's eyes, along the way telling the dramatic story of the space telescope, including interviews with key scientists and astronauts.
 U.K. STORE
 E.U. STORE
 U.S. & WORLDWIDE STORE

The Planets
From tiny Mercury to distant Neptune and Pluto, The Planets profiles each of the Solar System's members in depth, featuring the latest imagery from space missions. The tallest mountains, the deepest canyons, the strongest winds, raging atmospheric storms, terrain studded with craters and vast worlds of ice are just some of the sights you'll see on this 100-page tour of the planets.
 U.K. STORE
 E.U. STORE
 U.S. & WORLDWIDE STORE

3D Universe
Witness the most awesome sights of the Universe as they were meant to be seen in this 100-page extravaganza of planets, galaxies and star-scapes, all in 3D!
 U.K. STORE
 E.U. STORE
 U.S. & WORLDWIDE STORE


HOME | NEWS ARCHIVE | MAGAZINE | SOLAR SYSTEM | SKY CHART | RESOURCES | STORES | SPACEFLIGHT NOW

© 2014 Pole Star Publications Ltd.