The Cone Nebula

The Cone Nebula (NGC 2264) is a long, dark interstellar pillar of gas and dust located in the constellation Monoceros. It lies approximately 2,700 light-years from Earth, in the Orion Arm of the Milky Way. 

This giant pillar lives inside of a massive star-forming region surrounding the Christmas Tree Cluster. The Cone Nebula forms the southern part of NGC 2264, while the Christmas Tree Cluster resides to its north.

At magnitude 3.9, this nebula can be faintly observed through a telescope visually under dark, moonless skies. However, the true beauty and structure of this H II region are revealed in detail through astrophotography.

I captured the following photo of the Cone Nebula using my telescope and specialized filters on January 31, 2022 from my backyard.

The Cone Nebula

The Cone Nebula in Monoceros. (Trevor Jones).

Compare my humble attempt at this nebula to the glorious version captured by the NASA team shown below. 

“The Cone Nebula is a cousin of the M16 pillars, which the Hubble imaged in 1995. Monstrous pillars of cold gas like the Cone and M16 are common in large regions of star birth. Astronomers believe the pillars are incubators for developing stars”

Cone Nebula | NASA

NASA photo

Cone Nebula Details:

  • Cataloged: NGC 2264
  • Common Name: The Cone Nebula
  • Constellation: Monoceros
  • Size: 7 light-years (3 arc minutes)
  • Distance: 2,700 light-years

There are several cataloged deep-sky objects in the NGC 2264 region of Monoceros. In the image below, you can see the Cone Nebula and Christmas Tree Cluster, along with the nearby Fox Fur Nebula

You may also notice the bright star at the upper center of the frame. This star is called S Mon, a fifth magnitude blue-white Class O dwarf star. The blue glow of the surrounding reflected dust is a result of this bright star. 

To capture the images of the Cone Nebula shared on this page, I used a 150mm diameter aperture refractor telescope (Sky-Watcher Esprit 150), and a one-shot-color dedicated astronomy camera. I collected nearly 5 hours of total exposure time in total to produce the image.

Christmas Tree Cluster

The Cone Nebula and Fox Fur Nebula surround NGC 2264. 

As you can see, there is plenty of hydrogen gas in this region. The red emission nebulosity surrounding NGC 2264 dominates the scene, with a cool blue glow of the Christmas tree cluster highlighting the young, hot stars.

Location in the Night Sky

You’ll find the Cone Nebula in the constellation Monoceros the unicorn. From mid-northern latitudes, the months of December to March are the best times to look for the Cone Nebula in the night sky.

You can use the bright stars Procyon and Betelgeuse to help you star hop to this location. As you can see in the graphic below, the Cone Nebula sits in between these 2 stars. 

Cone Nebula Location

The location of the Cone Nebula in Monoceros. 

Don’t expect to see the Cone Nebula visually through the eyepiece of your telescope, it is just too dim. However, you should be able to spot the Christmas tree cluster at magnitude 3.9.

You may be able to see the Cone Nebula using a telescope with at least 10-inches of aperture under dark skies (during new moon), but I have never been able to see it myself.

This object can be revealed in detail through astrophotography, by collecting several hours’ worth of light on your camera sensor. 

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