M57, the Ring Nebula, is a showpiece planetary nebula located in the constellation of Lyra. It's probably the most well-known, studied and photographed object of its kind and a perennial favourite with amateur astronomers. The nebula is relatively bright at magnitude +8.8 and easy to locate. It can be found about 40% the way along an imaginary line connecting stars, Sheliak (β Lyr - mag. +3.5) and Sulafat (γ Lyr - mag. +3.2). For Northern Hemisphere observers, it appears high in the sky during the warm summer months although from southern latitudes it appears much lower down.
M57 was discovered by Antoine Darquier de Pellepoix in January 1779.
M57 is a difficult 10x50 binocular object, appearing at best as a faint out of focus star. It's certainly much easier to spot when using larger 20x80 models. Small telescopes fair better and a 100mm (4-inch) scope reveals a small grey puffed out, slightly elliptical patch of light. However, seeing the ring shape with it central hole is challenging even when using averted vision. When viewed through a 200mm (8-inch) telescope, the shape is much clearer with finer details also visible.
Very large amateur scopes show more intricate details, but the 15th magnitude central star at the heart of the Ring Nebula is difficult to spot. However, it's much easier to image.
M57 Data Table
|Object Type||Planetary Nebula|
|RA (J2000)||18h 53m 35s|
|DEC (J2000)||+33d 01m 43s|
|Apparent Size (arc mins)||1.4 x 1.0|