It’s a photo of the swirling gas around a region of sky known as NGC 2264, and it forms the centrepiece of our new competition, run in association with ESO.
The image shows a region of space about 30 light-years across, and if you can successfully answer three questions about it, you will have an opportunity to win a large mounted version.
The picture that you could win should look good on your wall. It’s 2 feet wide and 2 feet 3 inches wide (60 cm x 68 cm) and it would normally retail at £100. It is being provided for the competition by ESO, who will post it direct to the winner.
The runner-up will receive an ESO polo shirt, and the third-placed entry an ESO mug, and all three will also receive an anniversary DVD, a set of stickers and a luggage tag. All the prizes are being generously donated by ESO to encourage interest in astronomy.
Here’s the challenge: three questions to answer.
(1) NGC 2264 contains two objects, and for each you can look them up or you can work out what they are from the image. This first question is about one of them which is a cluster, which covers most of the picture and gets its name – a festive one – from its shape and the stars spread over it like sparkling blue baubles. The shape providing its name is in fact upside down in this picture – and the first answer to give us is this (festive-style) name.
(2) The second object to name is down at the bottom of the picture, with the shape of a narrow triangle. This object has a summertime name which might become clearer by again turning the picture upside down. So the second question is to look it up or work it out, and tell us this summertime name.
(3) And thirdly, NGC 2264, which is about 2600 light-years from us, lies in the constellation of Monoceros. What’s the English name for the constellation? And what is the name of the more familiar big constellation that is directly to the west of it?