Messier 76

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

Distance

2,500 light-years

Apparent Magnitude

12.0

constellation

Perseus

object type

Planetary Nebula

M76
M76 is located in the constellation Perseus and is approximately 2,500 light-years away from Earth.
NASA, ESA, R. Wade (Pennsylvania State University), and H. Bond (Space Telescope Science Institute)

This Hubble image features a portion of the Little Dumbbell Nebula, M76. Other names for M76 are the Cork Nebula or 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. In this Hubble observation, only one half of the nebula is shown, so the double-lobed structure isn’t evident.

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 nebulas in Charles Messier’s catalog. M76 is located in the constellation Perseus and is approximately 2,500 light-years away from Earth.

Hubble made these 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.) 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 nebulas.

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

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