The Christ­mas tree hid­den in plain sight

Sky at Night Magazine - - LETTERS -

As Christ­mas is ap­proach­ing, I thought it would be a good idea to tell you about a won­der­ful ob­ser­va­tion a school­child made about a par­tic­u­lar ob­ject in deep space. I’m a vol­un­teer ‘sci­ence ex­plainer’ at Kielder Ob­ser­va­tory in Northum­ber­land and on clear nights we pick out in­ter­est­ing deep-sky ob­jects that any­one can see with the tele­scopes. This time of year, one of my per­sonal favourites is M103 in Cas­siopeia. I’m al­ways stunned by its un­usual tri­an­gu­lar shape, topped off with a bril­liant red star right in the middle. I find its per­fect ge­om­e­try and un­usual colour dif­fer­ences very pleas­ing to the eye. Dur­ing a clear evening ear­lier this month we were ob­serv­ing M103 dur­ing a fam­ily as­tron­omy event. I asked the first child who peered through the eye­piece what they could see and to my de­light they shouted out “A Christ­mas tree!” One af­ter an­other, ev­ery­one who peered through the scope (adults too) saw the same thing. Now I can’t look at the clus­ter and not see a glit­ter­ing Christ­mas tree with a glow­ing jewel in the middle. Next time you get your scopes out this win­ter, head straight up and have a look for your­self; it’s a won­der­ful sight! Sam Corn­well, via email

You’re right Sam, there’s a strik­ing re­sem­blance! It joins NGC 2264 in Mono­ceros, part of which is also known as the Christ­mas Tree Clus­ter. – Ed

M103 is one of the most dis­tant open clus­ters we know of

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