Messer 78 with Nebula Complex


This nebula was first sighted by Pierre Méchain in March 1780 and added by Charles Messier as object number 78 in his catalog of comet-like celestial objects on December 17 of the same year. He made a note of it. «A cluster of stars with a lot of nebula». The slightly weaker part NGC 2071 further north escaped him at that time. It was only discovered by Wilhelm Herschel on 1 January 1786. Admiral Smyth saw «two stars in a very thin nebula» and Lord Rosse believed he saw a spiral structure in them. At that time it was still believed that spiral nebulae (galaxies) were located within our galaxy. [4, 196]

Messier 78
Messier 78: Galactic nebula in Orion; Schmidt-Netwton 250 mm f/4, Canon EOS 20Da; ISO 1600, RGB: 70.5 min; Obwalden; © 2018 Eduard von Bergen
Messier 78
Messier 78: Galactic nebula in Orion; 500 mm Cassegrain 5800 mm f/11.4; SBIG STL11K; 70+10+10+10 min LRGB; Bernese Highlands; © 2005 Radek Chromik

Physical Properties

Messier 78
Messier 78: Image in visible light (left) and infrared (right). Excerpt from SDSS9 Color and allWISE. [147]

As you can see on the infrared image in Fig. 3, M 78 is the brightest part of a nebula crossed by dark clouds, the brightest areas of which have been assigned the NGC numbers 2064, 2067, 2068 and 2071. These are mainly reflection nebulae, i. e. clouds of dust that reflect the light from stars and hardly shine themselves. With M 78 it is the two B-type stars (HD 38563 A and B) which illuminate the dust. Due to gravity, the cloud has accumulated in several «clumps». New stars are forming inside. The whole cloud belongs to the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex and is around 1,350 light years away. [196]

Further deep sky objects that belong to the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex:

Revised+Historic NGC/IC, Version 22/9, © Dr. Wolfgang Steinicke [277]
NameRADecTypebMagvMagDimDreyer DescriptionIdentification, Remarks
NGC 206405 46 18.4+00 00 21RN1 × 1eF, vS, * 9·10 np 4'LBN 1627, part of M 78
NGC 206705 46 32.0+00 07 54RN8 × 3F, pL, M 78 sDG 79, part of M 78
NGC 206805 46 45.0+00 04 48RN8.08 × 6B, L, wisp, gmbN, 3 st inv, rM 78, DG 80
NGC 207105 47 07.2+00 17 39RN8.07 × 5D * (10 & 14 m) with vF, L chevLBN 938

Finder Chart

The reflection nebula M78 is positioned exactly on the celestial equator. It lies slightly above the left belt star Alnitak (ζ Orionis) of the constellation Orion. The reflection nebula is stated to be the brightest of its kind. Indeed, it is relatively easy to find and is quite noticeable with its brightness. [192] The constellation is best observed in the months of October to February.

Chart Messer 78 with Nebula Complex
Messer 78 with Nebula Complex in constellation Orion. Chart created using SkySafari 6 Pro and STScI Digitized Sky Survey. [149, 160]

Visual Observation

350 mm aperture: The shape is slightly U-shaped and resembles a comet's head. Two bright stars lying in the nebula disturb the picture or dazzle the viewer in detail. However, one perceives a few dark, black areas. The OIII filter was of no help with this item. Without a filter, the reflection nebula M78 was easier and better to view. [192]

14" PWO-Dobson, F:4.6 / TV-Nagler 13mm, 123x, 0.67° und TV-Radian 8mm, 200x, 0.3°, Eduard von Bergen

More Objects Nearby (±15°)


4«Burnham's Celestial Handbook: An Observer's Guide to the Universe Beyond the Solar System» by Robert Burnham; Dover Publications, Inc.; Voume I: ISBN 0-486-23567-X; Volume II: ISBN 0-486-23568-8; Volume III: ISBN 0-486-23673-0
147Aladin Lite; (2020-12-23)
149SkySafari 6 Pro, Simulation Curriculum;
160The STScI Digitized Sky Survey;
192Deep-Sky Guide; (2020-12-25)
196Celestial Atlas by Curtney Seligman; (2020-12-28)
277«Historische Deep-Sky Kataloge» von Dr. Wolfgang Steinicke; (2021-02-17)