Outer space seems to have “joined in” on the holiday craze, as NASA captured a very festive image of NGC 2264, a group of young stars known as the “Christmas Tree Cluster”. The stars are in our Milky Way some 2,500 light-years away from Earth and are quite young, aged between one and five million years old (our Sun is 5 billion years old, to add some perspective). The stars have different sizes, ranging from less than a tenth the Sun’s mass to being seven times the mass of the Sun.

This composite image enhances the resemblance to the beloved Xmas tree through the addition of color and rotation. The animated blue and white lights are X-rays given off by the starts and detected by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. The green “pine needles” are a nebula of gas caught by a telescope, while the white “ornaments” of the tree are infrared data from other stars. The image has been rotated by 160 degrees so the top of the tree is towards the top of the image.

Although coordinated blinking of the stars may be artificial, the whole image still gives off a very Christmassy feeling!