nebula IC 2118 in the constellation Orion.
NASA/STScI Digitized Sky Survey/Noel Carboni

Is that the face of jolly old St. Nick, or a million-mile-wide nebula? The gas and dust of the cosmos often align into very familiar scenes from Earth. We’ve gathered nine space pictures that look just like your favorite Christmas things: Rudolph, snow angels, tree ornaments, and more.


Snow angel, or Sharpless 2-106

On the night before Christmas, all the little stellar boys and girls ran outside to make angels in a freshly fallen snow of super-hot gas. (Hubble snapped this image of Sharpless 2-106, a bi-polar star-forming region. Read more here.) They were having such a festive time in the nebula that they almost forgot to…

Christmas ornaments, or Cygnus X

…decorate the Cygnus X Christmas tree with red and gold ornaments of gas and dust. (In this image of the Cygnus X star complex, tendrils of dust appear in green and red, while the brightest areas are warm centers of star birth. Now everything was set for St. Nick’s arrival! But how would Santa navigate through all that snow, dust, and hot gas?

Rudolph, or red supergiant V838 Monocerotis

With Rudolph’s help, of course! The bullied and maligned reindeer came thundering to the rescue with his luminous red nose. (When this bloated, dying supergiant star suddenly brightened in 2002, it lit up surrounding dust clouds and caused what’s called a light echo. Read more here.) Santa filled his sleigh with toys and…

Santa’s sleigh, or NGC 2736 nebula

…soared across the sky at 400,000 miles per hour. (The Pencil Nebula is moving so fast that it will visibly change positions in the sky during a human lifetime. The stellar children all slept in their beds, waiting for Santa and dreaming of toy space ships and construction sets. All but one trouble-making, bedtime-disdaining little girl…

Pajama’d child, or the Flame nebula

Young Nebula Lou Who, clutching her pillow, crept downstairs–she wanted to catch Kris Kringle coming down the chimney. Didn’t she know that Santa doesn’t leave presents for children who won’t go to sleep? (Here, the Flame Nebula lights up the constellation Orion’s belt. Read more here.) “HO HO HO!” roared Santa Claus. “WHO GOES THERE?” Nebula Lou Who stared at him in horror…

Santa Claus, or IC 2118 nebula

But when Santa saw the little girl, he smiled knowingly. “Don’t you know that I don’t leave presents for children who won’t go to bed?” (Nebula IC 2118, in the constellation Orion, is illuminated by nearby star Rigel. Read more here.) Then he tapped his nose and disappeared up the chimney…

Santa Claus, or IC 2118 nebula

Nebula Lou Who walked wide-eyed towards the Christmas tree. She saw no shiny wrapping paper. No ribbons or bows. (This stellar nursery is the largest in our local galactic neighbored. It houses some of the most massive known stars. Read more here.) Suddenly, from the base of the tree, she heard a rustle…

New puppy, or S 308 Wolf-Rayet bubble

It was a puppy! The gift every child, and no parent, hopes Santa will leave under the tree. “Ahooo!” said the puppy. (This 60-light-years-across Wolf-Rayet bubble was formed when giant stars created huge stellar winds. Read more here.) Santa and Rudolph returned to the North Star, stuffed with cookies and thinking of all the happy little children…

Wreath, or Barnard 3 nebula

Happy holidays from Popular Science! Check out our gift guides here, and then drink some eggnog and browse all our pretty space pictures. (The green ring of the Wreath Nebula is made of warm dust very similar to smog found on Earth, while the red cloud in the middle is likely made of cool, metallic dust. Read more here.)