When your constellation is actually named after a unicorn, there are certain expectations of beauty and grandeur you've just got to live up to. And this particular star-forming region inside the constellation Monoceros most definitely delivers on that promise.

The star-forming region NGC 2264 is more than just a pretty jumble of colors - it's also home to a couple nebulae and a massive cluster of stars. NASA has everything you need to know about this beautiful patch of space:

The complex jumble of cosmic gas and dust is about 2,700 light-years distant and mixes reddish emission nebulae excited by energetic light from newborn stars with dark interstellar dust clouds. Where the otherwise obscuring dust clouds lie close to the hot, young stars they also reflect starlight, forming blue reflection nebulae. The above image spans about 3/4 degree or nearly 1.5 full moons, covering 40 light-years at the distance of NGC 2264. Its cast of cosmic characters includes the Fox Fur Nebula, whose convoluted pelt lies below center, bright variable star S Mon immersed in the blue-tinted haze, and the Cone Nebula near the tree's top. Of course, the stars of NGC 2264 are also known as the Christmas Tree star cluster. The triangular tree shape traced by the stars appears sideways here, with its apex at the Cone Nebula and its broader base centered near S Mon.


You can check out the full breathtaking image over at NASA's Astronomy Photo of the Day.