Christmas in the Cosmos: The Most Festive Phenomena in Space

Cosmic Christmas

Welcome to this week’s installment of The Intelligence Brief… in this special Holiday Seasonal edition of the newsletter, we’ll be looking out into the cosmos in search of a few of the most festive celestial phenomena in space. Stuffers in this year’s stocking will include 1) a Christmas tree 2,500 light-years away from Earth, 2) a holiday globe of stars in the constellation Virgo, and 3) a snowman in the Kuiper Belt.

Quote of the Week  

“Christmas is a season for kindling the fire for hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart.”

– Washington Irving

Latest News: In recent coverage from The Debrief, NASA has released stunning new imagery of the ice giant Uranus captured by the James Webb Space Telescope. Also, a team of researchers has reported the successful demonstration of Star Trek-style ‘teleportation’ without sending any actual information between the two parties. You’ll find links to all our recent stories and other items at the end of this newsletter.

Podcasts: In podcasts from The Debrief, this week on The Debrief Weekly Report, MJ and Steph discuss a curious new discovery in a 500-year-old Rembrandt painting, details about NASA’s latest space plane, The Dream Chaser, and more. Elsewhere, on The Micah Hanks Program, I explore the concept of “catastrophic disclosure,” and whether mitigation strategies could help reduce the chances of harm resulting from uncontrolled or unplanned disclosure of the existence of non-human intelligence. You can get all of The Debrief’s podcasts by heading over to our Podcasts Page.

Video News: Premiering this week on Rebelliously Curious, Chrissy Newton is joined by Paul Root Wolpe, Ph.D., as they delve into the world of genetic engineering, and the fascinating intersection of science, ethics, and the future of life. Also check out the latest episode of Ask Dr. Chanceand all the other great content from The Debrief on our official YouTube Channel.

And now, in our special holiday-themed installment of The Intelligence Brief, we head into space in search of cosmic phenomena that are very fitting for the season.

A Christmas Tree in the Cosmos

Christmas in the Cosmos
(Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble)

Just in time for the holidays, NASA recently unveiled new images of a cluster of young stars known as “The Christmas Tree Cluster,” formally known by the less festive name NGC 2264.

This cluster of stars, believed to be less than five million years old, is located approximately 2,500 light-years from Earth, comprising stars of varying sizes in relation to our own nearest star, the Sun.

As far as the cluster’s uncanny resemblance to a Christmas tree, the new imagery released by NASA was enhanced for this purpose, with the aid of a few color adjustments and a rotation of the image to match the likeness of a festive yuletide evergreen, with optical data from the National Science Foundation’s WIYN 0.9-meter telescope on Kitt Peak revealing the greenish gases in the surrounding nebula.

As an added touch, a simple animation that enhanced the brightness of the X-ray emissions of several of the young stars in the cluster, based on detections made by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, gives the cluster the appearance of blinking Christmas lights. You can learn more about the Christmas tree cluster here.

Hubble’s Celestial Snow Globe

(Credit: NASA)

An equally festive cosmic display can be located within the constellation Virgo, where seven million light years from Earth, astronomers spotted a celestial snow globe with help from the Hubble Space Telescope.

The colorful cosmic bubble is actually a dwarf galaxy that astronomers categorize as irregular, since it does not possess the typical spiraling or elliptical shape of most galaxies, a formation NASA compares to a “brightly shining tangle of string lights than a galaxy.”

Similar to the “Christmas tree cluster,” image filtration helped to bring out the holiday-themed coloration visible in the image, where the reddest areas are likely to be composed of glowing interstellar hydrogen molecules produced by hot energy from stars. You can read more about Hubble’s Christmas Globe here.

A Space Snowman in the Kuiper Belt

Arrokoth New Horizons
(Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Roman Tkachenko).

Also in our roundup of festive holiday celestial objects is one of the most peculiarly-shaped objects anywhere in the Kuiper Belt, which resembles a curious space-bound snowman. 

On January 1, 2019, NASA’s New Horizons space probe made its flyby of the primitive and strangely-shaped trans-Neptunian object, 486958 Arrokoth. Astronomers call the asteroid a cold classical Kuiper belt object, and among its many mysteries are its distinctive “snowman” shape, as well as the unusual mound structures that cover its surface.

Arrokoth’s odd appearance arises from the pair of conjoined minute planets, or planetesimals, from which it is formed. It was discovered in June 2014 during a search for potential targets for New Horizons and has remained mysterious even since the spacecraft obtained imagery of the object that revealed the unusual 5-kilometer-long mound structures that today are known to cover Wenu, the object’s larger lobe.

However, for this holiday-themed installment of The Intelligence Brief, Arrokoth, like the other festive celestial wonders we have reviewed, makes another fitting addition to this week’s roundup; one aimed at helping to bring a bit of cheer to you all this holiday. With that said, allow me to wish you all a delightful holiday, and season’s greetings from all of us here at The Debrief.

That concludes this week’s installment of The Intelligence Brief. You can read past editions of The Intelligence Brief at our website, or if you found this installment online, don’t forget to subscribe and get future email editions from us here. Also, if you have a tip or other information you’d like to send along directly to me, you can email me at micah [@] thedebrief [dot] org, or Tweet at me @MicahHanks.

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