Messier 76

This planetary nebula is also known as the Cork Nebula, Barbell Nebula, or Little Dumbbell Nebula.


~3,400 light-years

Apparent Magnitude




object type

Planetary Nebula

Taking up most of the image, is a multi-colored nebula in shades of blue, pink, yellow, orange, purple, and white. It appears as two translucent orbs attached by a white band.
In celebration of Hubble's 34th anniversary, astronomers took a snapshot of the Little Dumbbell Nebula. Like an inflating balloon, the lobes are expanding into space from a dying star seen as a white dot in the center. Blistering ultraviolet radiation from the super-hot star is causing the gases to glow. The red color is from nitrogen, and blue is from oxygen.

This Hubble image features the Little Dumbbell Nebula, M76. Other names for M76, the Cork Nebula or the Barbell Nebula. M76 was also given two New General Catalog numbers, NGC 650 and NGC 651, because it was formerly suspected to be a double nebula with two components touching each other. The name 'Little Dumbbell' comes from its shape that is a two-lobed structure of colorful, mottled, glowing gases resembling a balloon that’s been pinched around a middle waist.

M76 is a planetary nebula, which is an expanding shell of gas around an aging or dying star, and it is one of only four planetary nebulae in Charles Messier’s catalog. M76 is located in the constellation Perseus and is approximately 3,400 light-years away from Earth.

This Hubble image features a portion of the Little Dumbbell Nebula, M76. In this earlier Hubble observation, only one half of the nebula is shown, so the double-lobed structure isn’t evident.
NASA, ESA, R. Wade (Pennsylvania State University), and H. Bond (Space Telescope Science Institute)

The Hubble image above is from observations of M76 with the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 and the Wide Field Camera 3 in near-infrared and visible light. Most of the image is in visible light, where part of the nebula’s center (shown in green) is located just above the black “steps” in the image. (The “steps” are created by the layout of the detectors of the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2. Three of the camera’s four light detectors imaged “wide fields,” while the fourth detector had higher resolution but covered a smaller portion of the sky. When data from all four detectors are combined to create an image, the fourth is aligned to match the other three, producing the "steps."). Other stars not associated with the nebula appear as red dots throughout the image. The Hubble observations were taken to further understand the distribution and evolutionary states of planetary nebulae.

Discovered in 1780 by Messier’s colleague Pierre Méchain, M76 has an apparent magnitude of 12 and is best viewed in December. While it is possible to spot M76 with large binoculars at a dark site, the nebula’s small size and faintness make it one of the more difficult Messier objects to observe. Telescopes 8 inches or larger are needed to reveal the double-lobed structure of the nebula.

locator star chart for M76
This star chart for M76 represents the view from mid-northern latitudes for the given month and time.
Image courtesy of Stellarium

Explore Hubble's Messier Catalog

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