Astronomy Picture of the Day

Messier 76

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Messier 76


"Nebula at the right foot
... " begins the description
for the 76th object in Charles Messier's 18th century Catalog
Nebulae and Star Clusters

In fact, M76 is
one of the fainter objects on the Messier list and
is also known by the popular name of the "Little Dumbbell Nebula".

Like its brighter namesake M27
(the Dumbbell Nebula), M76 is recognized
as a planetary
- a gaseous shroud cast off by a
dying sunlike star.

The nebula itself is thought to be shaped more like a donut, while its
box-like appearance is
due to our nearly edge-on view.

Gas expanding more rapidly away from the donut hole produces the
faint loops of far flung material.

The nebula's dying star can be picked out in
this sharp color image as
the bottom, blue-tinted member of the double star near the center
of the box-like shape.

Distance estimates place M76 about 3 to 5 thousand light-years away,
making the nebula over a
light-year in diameter.

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