Whether you see a Christmas tree or snowflake, this nebula represents winter. Trace the dim triangular pattern of the tree in the wisps of green and yellow. Or follow the pattern of a snowflake in the center group of stars in this Spitzer Space Telescope image of the Christmas Tree Nebula.
The Christmas Tree cluster is a star-forming region about 2,700 light-years away toward the constellation of Monoceros, the unicorn. A light-year is the distance light travels in one year; a distance of about 10 trillion kilometers. In the middle of the image, this star-forming cloud appears to have regularly spaced stars. Astronomers believe that these are very young stars just born in their dusty cocoons. Eventually, these stars will move away from their birthplace and the snowflake will disappear. The yellowish dots in the cluster are huge baby stars.
Find the dusty finger pointing down from the top at the star cluster. This is the dark and dusty Cone Nebula. Spitzer helps astronomers explore the universe in infrared light. Infrared is a form of light that is just below what we can see with our eyes but we can feel it as heat. In the yellowish heart-shaped region near the top, Spitzer helps us see through the dust to reveal the youngest protostars in the cloud, just now beginning to glow as they join their crib-mates to become full-fledged stars.