Credit: R Jay Gabany
The Christmas Tree Star Cluster is one of four astronomical objects identified within NGC 2264. The other three being the Cone Nebula Nebula, the Fox Fur Nebula and the Snowflake Cluster. You'll find them all in the Monoceros constellation, one of Orions neighbours.
The Christmas Tree Cluster (NGC 2264) was discovered by William Herschel in 1784 and can be observed with binoculars if you so wish. The star cluster includes many interesting and curious structures in the gas and dust. At the top of the frame, the dark triangular feature is known as the Cone Nebula ( mentioned above). The region close to the brightest star has a strange, fur-like texture that has led to the name Fox Fur Nebula, also mentioned above.
Energetic hot young stars emitt intense ultra-violet light causing the overall red colors of the image. 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.
I've collected a few images of the Christmas Tree for you to enjoy these holidays. Links to the original and more scientific information about this spectacular view in the sky is integrated in the text.
The image above is published November 2008 on Cosmotography and appears on APOD 25th December 2008 (click image for more details). Note that I have rotated all the Christmas Tree Cluster images so that we see 'a tree' standing upright.
Christmas Tree Cluster Collection:
I, II , III, IV, V