Archive for December 16, 2021

NGC 2264: The Christmas Tree Cluster and Cone Nebula

December 16, 2021

Last night I received a nice image from Mario Motta of NGC 2264, known as the Christmas Tree Cluster, and the associated Cone Nebula. (December 15, 2021)

I thought this to be the perfect time for a post of this object…being only nine days from Christmas Day.

I’m also including an image and write-up from James Dire.

Just this morning (December 20th) I received an incredible drawing from Bertrand Laville, using a 25-inch telescope.

And a pencil sketch from 2010, by myself for illustrative purposes, as to show how this object appears “visually” with a 10-inch reflector, from a 5.0 suburban back yard.

Image and notes from Mario Motta:

For the season, I’m sharing my image of the Christmas tree cluster in Monoceros. A large object so I used my 6-inch scope, to capture the entire field. The NGC 2264 image is as it appears in the sky in true color, the first image. But, the “tree” is upside down, so for clarity, I inverted the image, and took some liberty of “nudging” the color to make it more distinct for you to see.

Supplemental: I’m adding another image using my 32-inch. Mario

Image using 32-inch telescope:

Image and notes by James Dire:

NGC 2264 is usually the designation given for a star cluster in the constellation Monoceros (mono – one, ceros – horn; The Unicorn) which is embedded in a large nebula. The nebula spans approximately 1º of declination and 1/2º right ascension.

If north is up, the nebula is in the shape of an inverted cone or Christmas tree. Thus NGC 2264 is sometimes called the Cone Nebula or Christmas Tree Nebula. Near the south end of the nebula, or the apex of the cone, lies a dark nebula, also cone shaped, with the apex on the north end. This dark nebula is called the Dark Cone Nebula.

The actual star cluster is approximately 39 arc minutes in diameter. My image of the Cone Nebula is centered on the star cluster, and only captures about half of the bright nebula. This image was taken with a 190mm (7.5-inch) f/5.3 Maksutov-Newtonian Astrograph using an SBIG ST-2000XCM CCD camera.

It’s a composite of six 10-minute frames taken on February 23, 2009. I have captured roughly the bottom half (north side) of the Christmas Tree (remember it’s upside down). Jim Dire

Supplemental: More images from James Dire:


I have attached a couple more images I took of NGC 2264.

One taken with a Stellarvue SV-102T 102mm f/8 Apo with a 0.8x focal reducer/field flattener to yield f/6.4. This was taken with Canon 30D digital camera. 60 minute exposure (6x10min). February 23, 2009 from, Earl, NC

The second taken with a William Optics 132mm f/7 refractor with a 0.8x focal reducer/field flattener yielding f/5.6. . This was taken with an SBIG ST-4000XCM CCD camera. 290 minute exposure (29x10min). Images taken on March 4 & 7, 2021 from Jubilee College State Park, Illinois.

Merry Christmas, Jim

Sketch by Roger Ivester:

10-inch reflector at 57x, and a 1.1º field. Some very faint nebulosity could be seen, at the southern tip, as shown, and without a filter, with a 5.0 NELM.

South is down, North is up, and West to the right.

Drawing by Bertrand Laville from France using a 25-inch telescope:

From “Deep-Sky Wonders” by Sue French:

“Dubbed the Christmas Tree Cluster by Leland S. Copeland, this striking cluster well deserves its nickname. I recall observing NGC 2264 long ago when I’d heard of the Christmas Tree but didn’t know to which cluster the name referred. One look through the eyepiece and I knew this must be it!”

“…I can imagine them fashioning a large five-pointed star crowning the tree. Since the tree hangs tip-south in the sky, it can sometimes be seen upright when viewed through a telescope that inverts the view…”