Looking Up: We Got You A Flame Retardant Christmas Tree Nebula!

Dec 25, 2017

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Happy Holi-gaze!
Credit Jason Furman from CSAS

It's a very appropriately themed topic of wonderment on Looking Up this week...

Merry Christmas everyone, and in keeping with the holiday spirit let’s talk about the Christmas tree you can find in the Colorado night sky right now, the Christmas Tree Nebula! 

Now, this very lovely emission nebula, meaning it glows from the inside out, doesn’t really look like a Christmas tree to me. In fact, it also is called the Flame nebula, and even more oddly, the Tank Track Nebula. All this comes from the fact that dark bands of dust and dirt cross in front of the nebula, relative to us here on Earth, creating dark lanes that seem to create shapes, such as, well, I guess, a Christmas tree. The nebula is home to the famous Horse Head formation, which is a dark pattern that is shaped, can you guess, pretty much like a horse head, but more of sea horse than any equine critter I’ve ever seen.

Part of the larger Orion molecular complex, the Christmas Tree nebula is located very close to the left-most star in Orion’s belt, Alnitak, which is responsible for lighting up the Nebula, and not too far from the much more famous Orion nebula. Both are areas where new stars are being born, so called stellar nurseries. There are at least a dozen baby stars inside the Christmas tree nebula.

So take a moment tonight to look and marvel at the Christmas Tree that will never wilt, and is about 41 trillion miles across. Happy Holidays!

If you’d like to take a closer look at the Christmas Tree Nebula or any of the other wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit csastro.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties.