This is how you can expect to see the Flame Nebula using a small telescope under dark skies with transparent atmospheric conditions. The 6 minute exposure was taken from Mount Sangre Observatory on December 19 at 11:25 PM MST during an exquisitely clear night. NGC 2024 shines well in red and green light too, but I used an HA (Hydrogen Alpha) filter to bring out the gossamer misty fog of ionized hydrogen gas extending from the Flame. The dark features are caused by dense clouds of gas and dust that block the background glow of newborn stars reaching out into interstellar space. Alnitak is the bottom of the three stars that make up Orion's belt as viewed during it's rising in the east. The eastern horizon is toward the top of this image, so it is mirrored (reversed) from how you'd see it through binoculars. When you view this nebula, make sure the field of view does not include Alnitak. This star is so bright, that its glare will wash out the fine detail of this aptly named deep space object. It's difficult to estimate distances to nebulae because they partially block light from stars embedded in them. Therefore, we have to estimate a range of no nearer than 900 light years to no farther than 1,500 light years distant from Earth. Blue supergiant star Alnitak is about 1,300 light years away.
In keeping with the native American tradition of telling stories during the winter, I've included this video about Hopi Katsina (know to most as Kachina) dolls.The Hopi have many dolls representing denizens of the spirit world. Included in the list are Katsinas of The Sun, The Moon, and The Stars. According to many researchers, Kachina dolls were invented by the Hopi and adopted by other tribes such as the Navajo, Zuni, and Pueblo. After harvest, the Katsina spirits returned in December and helped the Hopi prepare for their next planting season.