NGC 2264 - The Cone Nebula and Christmas Tree Cluster

Updated: Jan 13

This is probably the most festive deep sky object out there!

NGC 2264 refers to two objects: The Christmas Tree cluster and the Cone Nebula. It is also home to a third and fourth target, the Fox Fur Nebula and the Stellar Snowflake Cluster.


NGC 2264 is best photographed in late Fall and throughout Winter. Try to image it just in time for Christmas!


The Cone Nebula by NASA

The Cone Nebula is visible near the top right of our own image attached below. On the right is the object taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.


The Cone Nebula is a pillar of gas that spans 7 light-years in length. Within these gases, thousands of new stars are born over time.


The Cone Nebula is very similar to the famous Pillars of Creation, which we photographed in Messier 16.



At 800mm of focal length with our own telescope, the entire tree and more was able to fit in our frame. You can see the Cone Nebula on the top right and the Fox Fur nebula around the upper middle-left (just above the bright middle star). The Christmas Tree cluster can easily be seen, going from the Cone Nebula to the bright star in the center. That bright star represents the tree base.


This image was taken during a very humid night, and we know for sure that it affected the quality. We are not done with this target and will revisit it on a dry night. This was taken in bicolor, using two narrowband filters, Hydrogen Alpha and Oxygen III.

The version below resembles the Hubble Palette. Scroll down to see it in different combinations!


NGC 2264 in bicolor with the ASI 1600MM


GEAR USED:

Camera: ZWO ASI 1600mm Pro Mono

Telescope: Orion 8" Astrograph f/3.9

Mount: Atlas EQ-G motorized Mount

Guiding: ZWO ASI 290MM Mini

Acquisition: ZWO ASIAIR

Power: Pegasus Astro Pocket Powerbox

Processing: Pixinsight

ACQUISITION DETAILS:

Total Exposure Time: 2 hours

Exposure Time per frame: 5 minutes

Filters: Ha (1 hour) / OIII (1 hour)

Gain: 139



How to find the Cone Nebula and Christmas Tree Cluster?

The Christmas Tree cluster and the Cone Nebula are located in the constellation of Monoceros. It is pretty close to a bright and famous deep sky object: the Rosette Nebula.


Finding the cluster is not easy. Most of the stars in Monoceros are faint, and so the easiest way to star hop to the object is starting from the Orion constellation.


The Christmas Tree Cluster shines bright enough to be spotted with the naked eye. It can actually be seen easily with a pair of binoculars.

With a telescope, you should be able to make out the shape of the tree. On the other hand, the nebulosity within is much more difficult to spot. You may or may not be able to resolve it using a large telescope under a very dark sky.


Cool Facts
  • The Christmas Tree Cluster was discovered in 1784, the nebulosity around it was found 2 years later, the day after Christmas

  • Lies in the Orion arm of the Milky Way

  • Located 2,600 light-years away


Processing of NGC 2264

Processing the Cone Nebula and Christmas Tree cluster was not difficult, although we feel like we could have tried a little harder to get some of the faint gases on the top left and bottom right of our image.


The filters used to get this result were two narrowband filters:

  • Hydrogen Alpha (2 hours)

  • Oxygen III (2 hours)

We did not bother using the Sulfur II filter as we don't believe there is much data visible in that wavelength in this object.


What kinds of bicolor combinations could we have processed?


Below you can see a few different bicolor combinations obtained using PixelMath. We have an RGB style one on the left, an orange dominant one in the middle, and a yellowish one on the right. We weren't really sure as to which one we should pick and process, but ended up choosing the one that looks the most like the Hubble Palette (orange). If you don't already know, we've been deeply in love with processing the Hubble Palette for most of our images since getting our ASI 1600MM.


We also went back to PixInsight later and processed the yellow looking one. You can see the result of that later in this post.




Final Thoughts

The Christmas Tree Cluster and Cone Nebula are a wonderful target to photograph just in time for the holidays! We are not very happy with the end result and we actually hope to be able to get a better image of it before the next Christmas. Make sure to visit this page next year to see if we got a better image!


Have you photographed this object? Attach your image to the comment and let us know what gear you used!


If you were curious as to what the "yellow" combination looked like when it is fully processed, take a look at it below! We like this result too :)



Make sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube to stay up to date with our work!


Clear Skies,

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