Back to: Weekend Sky Report
Christmas Tree Cluster
December 20, 2019
At 2300 light years away, the cluster resembles an upside-down Christmas tree with the brightest star representing the base of the tree. The other stars form a loose cone shape that makes it look like Christmas tree lights.
The Christmas Tree Cluster is the more luminous part of a larger area designated as NGC 2264. This area also includes the Cone Nebula, Snowflake Cluster, and the Fox Fur Nebula. But most home telescopes will only be able to see the Christmas Tree Cluster. In fact, even a pair of binoculars or a small, hand-held scope should reveal the cluster… if you know where to look.
To find it, look to the East after 8pm. If you have a good view of the Eastern horizon, you’ll notice the bright star Procyon in Canis Minor. Trace a line between bright white Procyon and bright orange Betelgeuse, the right shoulder of Orion. Find the center of that line and scan upward with your telescope until you see a small cluster of brilliant blueish stars. That’s it. The Christmas Tree Cluster.
When you find it, you’ll be looking at not only the cluster itself, but also the nebula where it formed. If you have appropriate filters, a big enough telescope and are under clear, dark, rural skies, you may see some of that surrounding nebulosity.