Dr Jean Dean took the incredible shot from her back garden with specialist equipment. Using a motorised camera mount, Dr Dean dialled in the coordinates for designation NGC 2264 – the site of the Cone Nebula and the Christmas Tree Cluster.
Made of thousands of stars with a distinctive red hue, the formation looks uncannily like a festive tree – and she believes it represents the true meaning of Christmas.
Dr Dean, 61, from Vazon, said: ‘It’s a lovely nebula to capture, it’s a very interesting one. There are big pillars of dust and gas, similar to the pillars of creation. If you look in the middle there are big pillars of gas there and that’s where new stars are born, and if stars are born, planets are born and when that happens that’s when you get life. It’s kind of apt for Christmas if you go back to the original meaning, the birth of Jesus. This image is the birth of planetary systems and stars.’
Dr Dean said Guernsey is the perfect place to capture such images thanks to its dark skies, but she had to wait out in the cold for more than five hours to capture the shot.
‘It was done in my back garden, it’s very time consuming to take them. It was five hours of exposures. Normally, I would do 10 to 15 but the weather didn’t play nicely.
‘I was basically sitting outside in the garden for five hours at a time. It was very cold.’
She is a member of La Societe Guernesiaise, in the astronomy section, and regularly gets to use their observatory – but not on this occasion.
‘I don’t have the luxury of a permanent observatory so I have to sit outside with it. It’s a strange hobby. You can’t see anything when you line it up, it’s so far away so you can see nothing.
‘You wouldn’t be able to see it with a telescope, it’s millions of light years away so it takes a long time for the light to get here. It’s all down to having a modern mount, it has a star map built into it and it finds the targets.
‘The Christmas Cluster has an official designation so you type it in and the mount points towards it. It then tracks very precisely with the rotation of the earth so the stars don’t move across the field of view.
‘You would see just star trails without it.
‘It’s nice to see the images arrive on the sensor.’