Messier 78

Hubble's infrared image of Messier 78 helped astronomers understand how young stars develop.


1,600 light-years

Apparent Magnitude




object type

Reflection Nebula

M78 as seen by Hubble
This colorful image features a small part of M78, a reflection nebula located in the constellation Orion.
NASA, ESA, J. Muzerolle (Space Telescope Science Institute) and S. Megeath (University of Toledo)

This colorful image features a small part of M78, a reflection nebula located in the constellation Orion. A reflection nebula is created when light from a star is scattered or reflected off a nearby dust cloud. M78 is located approximately 1,600 light-years away from Earth and has an apparent magnitude of 8.

two images of M78
A box in the ground-based infrared image of M78 at left shows the location of Hubble’s close-up infrared view on the right.
ESO/VISTA (ground-based image)

M78 was discovered in 1780 by Charles Messier’s colleague Pierre Méchain. It is best seen in January. M78 can be found in binoculars and small telescopes, but telescopes 8 inches or larger will reveal more detail in the nebula. M78 has the distinction of appearing very comet like, with one side of the nebula flaring away like a comet’s tail. This has fooled many comet hunters into believing they have made a new discovery.

This infrared view was made using Hubble’s Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) and Wide Field Camera 3. The Hubble observations were taken to develop a better understanding of protostellar evolution, the early developmental stages in a star’s life.

locator star chart for M78
This star chart for M78 represents the view from mid-northern latitudes for the given month and time.
Image courtesy of Stellarium

Explore Hubble's Messier Catalog

The following pages contain some of Hubble’s best images of Messier objects.

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Messier 1 (The Crab Nebula)

Better known as the Crab Nebula, Charles Messier originally mistook Messier 1 for Halley’s Comet, which inspired him to create…

A Hubble image of a ball of thousands of stars

Messier 2

Hubble's image of Messier 2 is comprised of visible and infrared wavelengths of light.

Hubble view of M3 - a ball of thousands of stars.

Messier 3

Messier 3 holds more than 500,000 stars.