M76 or "The Little Dumbbell Nebula" is a planetary nebula located in Perseus. At magnitude +10.1 and spanning 2.7 x 1.8 arc minutes, its one of the faintest and smallest objects in Messier's catalogue. The nebula was discovered by Pierre Méchain on September 5, 1780 and first recognised as a planetary nebula by American astronomer Heber Doust Curtis in 1918. However, Isaac Roberts suggested it was similar to M57 (Ring Nebula) in 1891.

M76 itself looks like a miniature version of the famous Dumbbell Nebula (M27) in Vulpecula, from which it derives its name. Interestingly, it was assigned two NGC numbers - NGC 650 and 651 - since wrongly suspected of consisting of two separate emission nebulae. The structure is now classed as a bipolar planetary nebula.

The Little Dumbbell Nebula maybe faint but not difficult to locate; it's positioned just south of the prominent "W" asterism of Cassiopeia and only a degree north-northwest of Phi Persei (φ Per - mag. +4.0). It's best seen from the Northern Hemisphere during the months of October, November and December. From latitudes 40N or more it's circumpolar and hence never sets. However from southern temperate latitudes, M76 is a difficult object that never climbs high above the northern horizon.

M76 The Little Dumbbell Nebula (Ken Crawford (Rancho Del Sol Obs.))

Finder Chart for M76 (also shown M103)

Finder Chart for M76 (also shown M103) - pdf format

Finder Chart for M34 (also shown M76)

Finder Chart for M34 (also shown M76) - pdf format

When viewed through a small 80mm (3.1-inch) telescope or large 20x80 binoculars, M76 appears faint, small and diffuse. It can be glimpsed with direct vision but better seen when using averted vision and/or a nebula filter. Since faint it's a difficult object at best appearing as an odd shape glow.

The nebula is a fine sight through small and medium size scopes. A 200mm (8-inch) telescope will show the two almost equal sized lobes separated by dark lane. If conditions permit, push up the magnitude to between 20x and 30x per inch of aperture to bring out more subtle details. Of the two lobes, the southern one appears slightly brighter.

The Little Dumbbell Nebula is located approx. 2,500 light-years from Earth, which corresponds to a spatial diameter of about 2 light-years.

M76 Data Table

Messier76
NGC650, 651
NameLittle Dumbbell Nebula
Object TypePlanetary nebula
ConstellationPerseus
Distance (kly)2.5
Apparent Mag.10.1
RA (J2000)01h 42m 18s
DEC (J2000)51d 34m 16s
Apparent Size (arc mins)2.7 x 1.8
Radius (light-years)1.0
Notable FeatureConsidered to be one of the most difficult objects to see in Messier's list

Sky Highlights - March 2017

Comet
Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak now visible with binoculars as it heads towards perihelion

Mercury
Mercury heading towards greatest elongation east

Minor Planet
Vesta now visible with binoculars and small telescopes.

The Planets
This Month's Guide

Algol Minima
Algol eclipse dates and times for March 2017

Northern Hemisphere
Evening
West:- Venus (mag. -4.8 to -4.1 - first half of month), Mars (mag. +1.3 to +1.5), Uranus (mag. +5.9), Mercury (mag. -1.5 to -0.4 - second half of month)
Midnight
Southeast:- Jupiter (mag. -2.3 to -2.5)
Morning
Southwest:- Jupiter
Southeast:- Saturn (mag. +0.5)

Southern Hemisphere
Evening
West:- Venus (first half of month), Mars, Uranus
Midnight
North:- Jupiter
East:- Saturn
Morning
West:- Jupiter
Northeast:- Saturn
East:- Neptune (mag. +8.0 - second half of month)

Deep Sky
Naked eye / binoculars:-
Melotte 111 - Mel 111 - The Coma Star Cluster (Open Cluster)
Messier 44 - M44 - The Praesepe (Open Cluster)

Telescopes:-
Messier 67 - M67 - Open Cluster
Messier 51 - M51 - The Whirlpool Galaxy (Spiral Galaxy)
Messier 97 - M97 - The Owl Nebula (Planetary Nebula)
Messier 101 - M101 - The Pinwheel Galaxy (Spiral Galaxy)
Messier 65 – M65 – Spiral Galaxy
Messier 66 - M66 - Intermediate Spiral Galaxy
Messier 95 - M95 - Barred Spiral Galaxy
Messier 96 - M96 - Intermediate Spiral Galaxy
NGC 4244 - Spiral Galaxy
NGC 4565 - Needle Galaxy - Spiral Galaxy

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