Messier 76, Little Dumbbell Nebula

Messier 76
Messier 76: Little Dumbbell Nebula in Perseus; 500 mm Cassegrain 5800 mm f/11.4; SBIG STL11K; 60+10+10+10 min LRGB; Bernese Highlands; © 2005 Radek Chromik


M 76 was discovered by Pierre Méchain. Charles Messier wrote: «Nebula at the right foot of Andromeda, seen by M. Méchain on September 5, 1780, and he reports: This nebula contains no stars: 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 consisted only of very small stars containing nebulae, and that the slightest light to illuminate the wires of the micrometer made it disappear: the position was determined on the basis of the fourth great star ψ Andromeda.» [281]

Wilhelm Herschel observed this nebula on November 12, 1781 with his 18.7 inch reflector telescope, recorded the entry I 193 and noted: «Two close to each other. Both very bright, distance 2' leading south, following north. One is 76 from the Connoissance» [464] Herschel's son John listed this «double nebula» as GC 385 and GC 386 in his «Catalogue of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars» [467] published in 1864, the first being identified as M 76 and the second as WH I 193 This was then adopted by John LE Dreyer in his «New General Catalogue» [467] in 1888. The American astronomer Heber Doust Curtis finally identified M 76 as a planetary nebula on photo plates from the Lick Observatory in 1918. [461]

Physical Properties

This bipolar planetary nebula is known by different names: Cork Pin Nebula or Small Dumbbell Nebula, the little brother of the Dumbbell Nebula (M 27). The sharply delimited, central, rectangular section contrasts with the large tuft-like appendages that appear as two overlapping ellipses. The central star has a photographic brightness of 16.5 mag and about 0.6 to 0.9 solar masses at a temperature of 100'000 to 170'000 Kelvin. Looking at the appearance of the nebula with the measured velocities of different areas of the nebula, it is difficult to imagine how the structure emerged from secretions from the central star. There are several models, but none are unique. M 76 is located about 2500 light years from Earth and measures about 0.7 light years in diameter. [283]

«Strasbourg-ESO Catalogue of Galactic Planetary Nebulae» Acker et al., 1992 [141]
DesignationsPN G130.9-10.5: NGC 650-51, PK 130-10.1, ARO 2, M 76, VV 6, VV'9
Right Ascension (J2000.0)1h 42m 22s a
Declination (J2000.0)51° 34' 07" a
Dimensions 67." (optical), 100." (radio)
Distance 1.2 kpc
Radial Velocity-19.1 km/s ± 1.2 km/s
Expansion Velocity 38.5 km/s (O-III), 40. km/s (N-II)
C-Star DesignationsAG82 11
DiscovererCURTIS 1918

Finder Chart

M 76 is located in the constellation Perseus about 1° north of the 4 mag bright star φ Persei. The PN is circumpolar, but the best time to observe it is September to February when it is highest in the sky at night.

Chart M 76
Chart created using SkySafari 6 Pro and STScI Digitized Sky Survey. [149, 160]

Visual Observation

400 mm aperture: With a 21 mm Ethos eyepiece (85x), the nebula and its bipolar shape can be clearly seen without a filter. In the 9 mm Nagler eyepiece (200x) it looks like a cork. Without the O-III filter I like the sight better, because the nebula appears embedded in fine stars all around. With the O-III filter, about as much of the nebula can be seen as without. The bright star HD 10498 glares when it is in the field of view. In the 6 mm Radian eyepiece (300x) the nebula appears darker in the central area than at the edge. On the side with the little star nearby, the nebula looks a little lighter. The beginnings of the ears are more palpable than recognizable. — Taurus T400 f/4.5 Dobsonian, Hasliberg Reuti, 6. 11. 2021, Bernd Nies


141Strasbourg-ESO Catalogue of Galactic Planetary Nebulae; A. Acker, F. Ochsenbein, B. Stenholm, R. Tylenda, J. Marcout, C. Schohn; European Southern Observatory; ISBN 3-923524-41-2 (1992); (2021-02-18)
149SkySafari 6 Pro, Simulation Curriculum;
160The STScI Digitized Sky Survey;
281«Catalogue Nébuleuses et des Amas D'Étoiles» Observées à Paris, par M. Messier, à l'Observatoire de la Marine, hôtel de Clugni, rue des Mathurins. «Connoissance des temps ou connoissance des mouvements célestes, pour l'année bissextile 1784 » Page 227; (2021-02-21)
283M76, NGC 650/651; (2021-02-25)
461«The Planetary Nebulae» Curtis, H. D.; Publications of Lick Observatory, vol. 13, pp.55-74, 1918; Bibcode:1918PLicO..13...55C
464«Catalogue of a second thousand of new nebulae and clusters of stars; with a few introductory remarks on the construction of the heavens» William Herschel, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 1 January 1789; DOI:10.1098/rstl.1789.0021
467«Catalogue of nebulae and clusters of stars» John Frederick William Herschel, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 1 January 1864; DOI:10.1098/rstl.1864.0001