The Cone Nebula and the Christmas tree looks like a creature of nightmare, in a red sea, but in reality a mass of gas and dust located 2 500 light-years away in the constellation the Unicorn. The nebula NGC 2264, a conical shape, is a finger of dark matter points to a group of stars. We see in this picture the visible part of a huge cloud of interstellar dense and opaque, composed of dust and hydrogen. This nebula has the distinction of being a variable brightness, due to the star that illuminates the cloud and which varies irregularly. The red emission nebula surrounding the gas is due to ionized hydrogen gas surrounding the stars. This monstrous pillar resides in a region of star formation. This photo, taken by the camera of the Hubble Space Telescope, shows a cone of 2.5 light-years. The pillar has a full size of seven light-years. Radiation from hot young stars (upper of the image) slowly eroding the top of the nebula. Ultraviolet light heats the edges of the dark cloud, releasing gas in the region, relatively empty, the surrounding space.
Ultraviolet rays are shining hydrogen gas, which produces the red halo of light around the pillar and the arch that is seen near the low upper left side of the cone. This small arc, however, 65 times larger than our solar system. The blue and white light of nearby stars is reflected by dust. Within these regions of dark dust, stars and planets in formation. Over time, only the densest regions of the cone will resist erosion of the ultraviolet radiation of young massive stars. Astronomers believe that these pillars are incubators of stars. The camera ACS made this observation, April 2, 2002. The color image is constructed from three separate images taken in blue, near infrared and hydrogen-alpha.
Image: Cone Nebula in the constellation of the Unicorn. Image taken by Hubble in April 2002.
NASA, H. Ford (JHU), G. Illingworth (UCSC/LO), M. Clampin (STScI), G. Hartig (STScI), the ACS Science Team and ESA.