Flaming Tree Nebula (NGC 2024)

NGC 2024
NGC 2024: Galactic nebula in Orion; 500 mm Cassegrain f=3625mm / f7.2; SBIG STL11K; 120+30+30+30 min LRGB; Bernese Highlands; © 2009 Radek Chromik

Object Description

NGC 2024 is a bright spot in a gigantic nebula complex stretching from the Orion Nebula out to Barnard's Loop. For the most part, however, this nebula complex, about 1500 light-years away, is too faint to be visible to the naked eye with a telescope; Large, connected parts only appear on long-term exposures from very dark areas of the earth. This entire nebula complex is probably one or more very old remnants of a supernova, from which new stars and even planetary systems are formed.

The Flaming Tree Nebula is the most prominent part of a brighter nebula region around the 2.0 mag star Alnitak (ζ Orionis). It was knowingly first sighted by W. Herschel on 1 January 1786 and cataloged as V 28. He described it as «Remarkable milky nebulosity, divided in 3 or 4 large patches, including a dark space; cannot take up less than 1/2 degree, but I suppose it to be much more extensive.» [464]

Revised+Historic NGC/IC, Version 22/9, © Dr. Wolfgang Steinicke [277]
DesignationNGC 2024
Right Ascension (J2000.0)05h 41m 42.0s
Declination (J2000.0)-01° 51' 24"
Diameter30 × 30 arcmin
Metric Distance0.400 kpc
Dreyer Description! irr, B, vvL, black sp incl
Identification, RemarksCED 55P, Flame nebula

Finder Chart

NGC 2024 is once again a very easy-to-find object: focus on Alnitak, the left (east) belt star of Orion, and we're there. The nebula is just east of the bright star. Orion is at its best in the night sky during the months of October to February.

Finder Chart Flaming Tree Nebula (NGC 2024)
Flaming Tree Nebula (NGC 2024) in constellation Orion. Charts created using SkySafari 6 Pro and STScI Digitized Sky Survey. Limiting magnitudes: Constellation chart ~6.5 mag, DSS2 close-ups ~20 mag. [149, 160]

Visual Observation

NGC 2024
NGC 2024: Zeichnung; 150mm-Refraktor; © 16. 12. 1996 Beat Kohler

150 mm aperture: Although Alnitak is very accommodating in finding NGC 2024, it does get in the way when trying to observe the nebula. Nevertheless, an observation is always worthwhile. This nebula is one of the objects that show a clear structure in shape and differences in brightness. Besides the large Orion and Horsehead Nebula, a detour is always worthwhile.

In order to weaken the disturbingly bright light from Alnitak when making this drawing, a simple mask was made using a thin strip of adhesive tape, which was glued to the aperture of a 35mm wide-angle eyepiece and rendered valuable services. This covered the bright star, and the whole effort took less than a minute. The nebula could be observed more relaxed and more details came to light. Filters didn't bring any significant benefit - clean and dry air is a prerequisite for successful detailed observation because of the outshining star.

Visual observation shows very nicely the lighter areas divided by longitudinal darker bands. The nebula was therefore spontaneously dubbed the «cauliflower nebula» because it somehow resembles the structure of a longitudinal section of this vegetable. However, the name «Flaming Tree Nebula» is probably better known. In fact, one can see in it the silhouette of a trunk and large branches that stand in the bright fire.

Beat Kohler, 1996

More Objects Nearby (±15°)