NASA's James Webb Space Telescope Captures 'Cosmic Christmas Tree' Shining In Space

The image enhances the resemblance to a Christmas tree through choices of color and rotation.

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope Captures 'Cosmic Christmas Tree' Shining In Space

The Christmas Tree Cluster is a swarm of stars and gas some 2,500 light-years from Earth.

As the world gears up for the festive season, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has shared a stunning image of a space Christmas tree, adding an out-of-this-world touch to the holiday cheer.

The space agency described the image as a shot of a cluster of young stars looking decidedly like a cosmic Christmas tree. The cluster, known as NGC 2264, is in our Milky Way Galaxy, about 2,500 light-years from Earth. Some of the stars in the cluster are relatively small, and some are relatively large, ranging from one tenth to seven times the mass of our sun.

In this composite image, the cluster's resemblance to a Christmas tree has been enhanced through image rotation and color choices. Optical data is represented by wispy green lines and shapes, which create the boughs and needles of the tree shape.

The space agency describes in an image article that young stars, like those in NGC 2264, are volatile and undergo strong flares in X-rays and other types of variations seen in different types of light. The coordinated, blinking variations shown in this animation, however, are artificial to emphasize the locations of the stars seen in X-rays and highlight the similarity of this object to a Christmas tree. In reality, the variations of the stars are not synchronized.

The variations observed by Chandra and other telescopes are caused by several different processes. Some of these are related to activity involving magnetic fields, including flares like those undergone by the Sun-but much more powerful-and hot spots and dark regions on the surfaces of the stars that go in and out of view as the stars rotate. There can also be changes in the thickness of gas obscuring the stars and changes in the amount of material still falling onto the stars from disks of surrounding gas.