M76 - Little Dumbbell Nebula

Messier 76 or M76 (also designated NGC 650/1) is a planetary nebula in the constellation Perseus. It has an apparent visual magnitude of 10.1 and its angular diameter is 2.7x1.8 arc-minutes. M76 lies at an estimated distance of 3400 light years. The Equinox 2000 coordinates are RA= 1h 42.4m, Dec= +51° 34´ which makes M76 best seen during the autumn. The Messier Autumn Star Chart shows the position of all Messier objects visible during that season. As one of the more famous objects in the Messier Catalog, it is commonly known as the Little Dumbbell Nebula.

The image above shows the uncropped view of M76 through the Takahashi E-180 Astrograph (North is to right). A 3x enlargement of this image appears to the right.

M76 was discovered by P. Méchain in 1780. It is is one of only four planetary nebulae in the Messier Catalog (M27, M57, M76, and M97). One of the faintest Messier objects, the Little Dumbbell Nebula is also known as the Cork Nebula, Butterfly Nebula, and Barbell Nebula. The central star is a magnitude 16.6 white dwarf with a temperature of 60,000 K. The nebula itself is the cast-off shell of this dying star. According to Stoyan et al. (2010), the distance of this planetary nebula is 2550 light years and its diameter is 0.7 light years although there is some uncertainty in these values. Its age is not known.

For more information, see the Messier Catalog as well as specific entries for M76 in Wikipedia and SEDS.

Messier's Description of M76

October 21, 1780
`Nebula at the right foot of Andromeda, seen by M. Méchain on September 5, 1780, and he reports: "This nebula contains no star; it is small and faint". On the following October 21, M. Messier looked for it with his achromatic telescope, and it seemed to him that it was composed of nothing but small stars, containing nebulosity, and that the least light employed to illuminate the micrometer wires causes it disappear: its position was determined from the star Phi Andromedae, of fourth magnitude.' (diam. 2')

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