TELESCOPIC HIGHLIGHTS


There are a plethora of star clusters, nurseries, and nebulae to see and photograph in this area of the sky. I've centered on the Christmas Tree Cluster (NGC 2264) because it's almost exactly in the middle of a lot of bright binocular and telescopic objects. Of course, you've probably already seen the Great Orion Nebula (M 42) near the upper right corner of this image, but did you know that there're also two not as bright but definitely well known nebulas near Alnitak (the bottom of the three stars that form Orion's belt)? They are the Flame Nebula (NGC 2024) and The Horsehead Nebula (NGC 2023). The Flame is bright enough to see using a 5 inch telescope or even large binoculars if it is a dark moonless night with high contrast and no light pollution. The Horsehead is tougher in that you need very dark skies and a H-Alpha filter. I've tried seeing it using an OIII filter, but have had better success with the HA filter. Of course, there's also Barnard's Loop which shines in HA light around the lower perimeter of the Orion constellation. This nebula manifests itself during long exposure wide angle camera  astrophotography. Gemini sports 3 wonderful open star clusters M 35, IC 2157, and NGC 2158 all visible in small telescopes near Castor's foot. There is also The Eskimo Nebula (NGC 2392) which is a colorful planetary nebula (grey white through a telescope's high power eyepiece). It's quite far away compared to better known planetary nebulas, so it looks kind of small.
Here's a close up of both the Christmas Tree and Rosette star clusters. The nebula around the Rosette (NGC 2244) is easy to see as a grey swirling fog around the bright young stars in its center that's lighting up the gas and dust cloud that they formed from. The Christmas Tree Cluster nebula is harder to see but the stars forming its Christmas Tree shape are easy to see particularly in small telescopes. When photographing this star cluster, pay particular attention to the "star" on top of the tree (tree is almost upside down pointing to the lower right in this image). That is the Cone Nebula (southern part of NGC 2264). Your telescope and the type of optical path to your eyepiece may show this image reversed and upside down, but binoculars should show it as you see it here. The Cone Nebula is similar to the shapes seen in the Eagle Nebula imaged through the Hubble Space Telescope and nick named, "The Pillars of Creation." The Cone is a single large pillar of gas and dust being reshaped by the stellar winds of baby stars born within and around it.