This fairly wide patch of sky (about three full-moon widths across) is home to a vast cloud of gas and dust, as well as a number of bright, young stars. It is in fact an active star-forming region.

Near the center of the image we find a roughly triangular arrangement of hot, blue newborn stars, the Christmas-Tree Cluster. The very bright star "S-Monocerotis" is the tree's "trunk," and the rest of the tree extends to the left, lying on its side. Just below S-Mon is the richly-textured Fox-Fur Nebula, an area of hydrogen gas actively sculpted by the powerful stellar winds and radiation of the nearby stars.

Just off the "top" of the Christmas tree is the oft-photographed Cone Nebula. Nascent stars lie buried within the gas and dust forming the tip of this structure. Eventually their light and stellar winds will erode the gas and dust, and the new stars will burst forth and join their cosmic siblings.

Image and text copyright © Russell Croman. All rights reserved.

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