Syfy Insider Exclusive

Create a free profile to get unlimited access to exclusive videos, sweepstakes, and more!

Sign Up For Free to View

Get in the Holiday Spirit with NASA's Dazzling New Image of the Christmas Tree Star Cluster

Some 2,500 light-years from here, it's Christmas all the time!

By Cassidy Ward

Dr. Seuss’ infamous antihero The Grinch (streaming now on Peacock) made hating Christmas a lifestyle. The holidays reinforce the already crushing weight of the Grinch’s loneliness, but he hasn’t figured that out yet. Instead of dealing with the root of his anger, he cooks up an elaborate plan to literally rob an entire town of their holiday celebration. Grinches will do anything except go to therapy.

RELATED: How the Grinch Stole Christmas! 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Dr. Seuss’ Yuletide Classic

The Grinch’s slapdash plan to ruin everyone else’s good time worked well enough for a single town, but if he really wants to steal Christmas once and for all, if he wants to scoop up all of the presents… the ribbons, the wrappings, the tags and the tinsel, the trimmings, the trappings, he’s going to need to strap a rocket to the back of his sled. Because the last tree that needs to go up the chimney is 2,500 light-years away and the size of a nebula.

Check Out the Largest Christmas Tree in the Cosmos

NASA recently released new images of the star cluster NGC 2264 in honor of the winter holidays. The cluster is partially obscured by a cloud of gas and dust and the combination happens to look quite a bit like a pine tree from certain angles. Consequently, it is commonly known as the Christmas Tree Cluster. We have to admit that rolls of the tongue a little easier than NGC 2264.

A gif of cluster of stars emitting a green Christmas tree-like glow.

The cluster is made up of relatively young stars, all between one and five million years old. For comparison, the Sun is roughly 5 billion years old, or approximately a thousand times older than the oldest stars in the cluster. While the above composite is a real image of a real object, some artistic choices have been made to enhance the artistic effect.

First, the view has been rotated clockwise about 160 degrees in order to orient the “tree” in an upright position. Some of the visible objects in the image (stars, gas, and dust) have been colored to look more like a tree or decorations, and some invisible light (X-rays) has been made visible.

RELATED: JWST Unveils Cosmic "Christmas Ornament" Supernova, Just in Time for the Holidays

The green of the “tree” was obtained using data from the National Science Foundation’s WIYN 0.9-meter telescope at Kitt Peak. It represents gas in the nebula and has been colored green because that’s the color of Christmas trees (at least until a few weeks after Christmas when you finally take them to the dump). The young stars inside the cluster regularly emit flares of X-ray energy which were detected by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. These peaks and valleys happen at different times for different stars but the flashes have all been synchronized in the above animation to make the “ornaments” look cooler. It works. Lastly, background and foreground stars come from the Two Micron All Sky Survey.

The universe says happy holidays!

Face your inner humbug with The Grinch, streaming now on Peacock.

Read more about: