NGC 2264: Conus Nebula in Christmas Tree

NGC 2264
NGC 2264: Christmas Tree with Cone Nebula; North is down; Vixen ED-Apochromat 115mm f/7.7; Canon EOS 20Da; 8 x 483 s; ISO 1600; Langis 1480 m ü. M.; © 31. 1. 2006 Eduard von Bergen


The star cluster was discovered on 18 January 1784 by the German-British astronomer William Herschel with his reflecting telescope of 18.7 inch diameter and 20 feet focal length at 157x magnification. He recorded his discovery under VIII 5 (VIII for coarsely scattered clusters of stars) and counted more than 30 stars. [463] On 26 December 1785, he again pointed his telescope at this star cluster and noticed a nebula which he recorded as V 27 (V for very large nebulae), noting: «Some pretty bright stars 7 or 8' south preceding 15 Monocerotis are involved in extremely faint milky nebulosity, which loses itself imperceptibly.» [464]

Physical Properties

It is an IV3pn type open cluster of fourth magnitude stars shrouded in a very large nebula, the densest part of which lies southwest of the star 15 Monocerotis. NGC 2224 is part of a complex region in the constellation Monoceros, made up of dark, emission and reflection nebulae, and stars that excite or illuminate them and highlight structures.

At the southern end is the Cone Nebula, a dense cloud of gas and dust sculpted by the stellar wind from an extremely hot and bright star hiding behind a cloud. Scattered through the nebula are a number of bright stars that appear like string lights on a Christmas tree. In Fig. 1 the tree is standing upright. The Cone Nebula is at the top, and bright star S Monocerotis and the Fox Fur Nebula are at the bottom of the trunk. The Fox Fur Nebula is generally not considered part of NGC 2264, but is obviously an extension of the gas and dust cloud filling this space, which is also designated Sh 2-273 [310] or LBN 202.92+02.18 or LBN 911. [270] The open star cluster with nebula is about 2600 light-years away. [196]

Revised+Historic NGC/IC, Version 22/9, © Dr. Wolfgang Steinicke [277]
DesignationNGC 2264
TypeOCL (IV3pn)
Right Ascension06h 40m 58.2s
Declination+09° 53' 44"
Diameter40 arcmin
Visual magnitude4.1 mag
Metric Distance0.660 kpc
Dreyer Description15 Monoc, Cl, **, ? Neb
Identification, RemarksOCL 495, LBN 911, Christmas Tree cluster
NGC 2264
NGC 2264: Cone Nebula in cluster NGC 2264; Norden is left; 500 mm Cassegrain 5800 mm f/11.4; SBIG STL11K; 125+40+40+40 min LRGB; Bernese Highlands; © 2011 Radek Chromik
NGC 2264
NGC 2264: Fox Fur Nebula near 4.7 mag star 15 Monocerotis; 500 mm Cassegrain 5800 mm f/11.4; SBIG STL11K; 120+40+40+40 min LRGB; Bernese Highlands; © 2011 Radek Chromik

Finder Chart

In the constellation Monoceros, almost near the left foot of Gemini, is the beautifully shaped star cluster NGC 2264. Its shape also gave it the name Christmas Tree Cluster. The base of the Christmas tree is also marked by the 4.7 mag star 15 Monocerotis. The Cone Nebula is about half a degree south of this star at the top of the inverted Christmas tree. The two mag 7.2 and mag 9.1 bright treetop stars point the way. The Cone Nebula lies in the extension of the tree trunk or at the two treetop stars. [192]

Chart NGC 2264: Conus Nebula in Christmas Tree
NGC 2264: Conus Nebula in Christmas Tree in constellation Monoceros. Chart created using SkySafari 6 Pro and STScI Digitized Sky Survey. [149, 160]

Visual Observation

355 mm aperture: With an H-beta filter and averted vision, the Cone Nebula can already be guessed at with a telescope aperture of around 14 inch. The dark cone or the pyramid is extremely difficult to see. It is then also the one bright lateral pyramid boundary that is the observation of the dark cone nebula at all possible. Truly a difficult object, but as a challenge the Cone Nebula is very worthwhile for telescopes from about 12 inch upwards.

14" PWO-Dobson, F:4.6 / TV-Radian 8mm, 200x, 0.3° und TV-Nagler-Zoom 6mm-5mm, 266x-320x, 0.19°-0.16°
Eduard von Bergen

More Objects Nearby (±15°)


149SkySafari 6 Pro, Simulation Curriculum;
160The STScI Digitized Sky Survey;
192Deep-Sky Guide; (2020-12-25)
196Celestial Atlas by Curtney Seligman; (2020-12-28)
270«Catalogue of Bright Nebulae» Lynds, Beverly T.; Astrophysical Journal Supplement, vol. 12, p.163 (1965); DOI:10.1086/190123
277«Historische Deep-Sky Kataloge» von Dr. Wolfgang Steinicke; (2021-02-17)
310«A Catalogue of H II Regions» Stewart Sharpless, US Naval Observatory, 1959; DOI:10.1086/190049; Bibcode:1959ApJS....4..257S
463«Catalogue of one thousand new nebulae and clusters of stars» William Herschel, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 1 January 1786; DOI:10.1098/rstl.1786.0027
464«Catalogue of a second thousand of new nebulae and clusters of stars; with a few introductory remarks on the construction of the heavens» William Herschel, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 1 January 1789; DOI:10.1098/rstl.1789.0021