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Observing Guides: August 2020 & earlier

By John Hobbs
Posted: 2020-12-01T02:54:00Z

                   OBSERVER’S CHALLENGE* – DECEMBER, 2020                             by Glenn Chaple

                    Messier 76 – Planetary Nebula in Perseus (Mag: 10.1, Size: 2.7’ X 1.8’)

Messier 76, is one of four planetary nebulae listed in the Messier Catalog, the others being the Dumbbell Nebula (M27), the Ring Nebula (M57), and the Owl Nebula (M97). Similar in shape to M27 but 2½ magnitudes fainter and 3 times smaller, M76 is nick-named the “Little Dumbbell Nebula.”

The Little Dumbbell is located at RA 01h 42.4m and Dec +51ο 34.5’. For star-hoppers, that’s about a degree north and slightly west of the 4th magnitude star phi (φ) Persei.  At 10th magnitude and covering an area 2.7 by 1.8 arc-minutes, it’s considered to be one of the more difficult to observe members of the Messier Catalog. However, it can be viewed with small-aperture instruments under reasonably dark sky conditions and with dark-adapted eyes.

M76 was discovered by French comet hunter Pierre Méchain on September 5, 1780. He reported his find to Messier, who added it to his catalog on October 21. Once believed to be two separate emission nebulae, the Little Dumbbell bears the New General Catalogue designation NGC 650/651. It lies about 2500 light years away and has a true diameter of 1.2 light years.




*The purpose of the Observer’s Challenge is to encourage the pursuit of visual observing. It is open to everyone who is interested. If you’d like to contribute notes, drawings, or photographs, we’ll be happy to include them in our monthly summary. Submit your observing notes, sketches, and/or images to Roger Ivester ( To find out more about the Observer’s Challenge or access past reports, log on to














M76, taken with 32-inch scope using SBIG 1001E camera and narrow band filters.  About 2 hours total imaging.  North is up. Image by Mario Motta (ATMoB)














M76, as seen with 3-inch f/6 reflector at 57X. Field is one-half degree on a side and rotated so that North is up. Sketch by Glenn Chaple (ATMoB)