Little Dumbbell Nebula
Unlike the first planetary nebula I saw (M27 Dumbbell Nebula), M76 is not an easy binocular target. I have tried to see it from rural dark skies with my 15x70 binoculars and failed. However, it is visible from suburban skies even with a small telescope.
This little guy was discovered in 1780 by a french astronomer named Pierre Mechain who shared his discovery with Charles Messier and therefore it was included in the Messies List. Although, it was not until 1918 that was recognized as a planetary nebula by the American astronomer Heber Doust Curtis. It was baptized as little dumbbell because it resembles its big brother M27. I personally think that this one looks more like a peanut shell rather than a dumbbell.
Finding M76 is not a difficult task since it is located close to two fairly bright stars in the foot of Andromeda and the hand of Perseus: 51 And and Phi Persei respectively. From this last star, one can hop less than a degree to HIP8063 and once there, the peanut smudge will show up in the FOV of a low magnification eyepiece.
In small to mid sizes scopes, M76 only show a defocused central bar sorrounded by a very dim glow but even with my 6 inches of aperture and 100 magnification I needed to use averted vision to discern the shape of a peanut shell. According to sketches I have seen from large telescope users, M76 will show more of its bipolar structure: two lobes formed by the material ejected off of the star equator. In photographs, a central nucleus of 16th magnitude can be seen.
If you have clear skies, this is a good time to go out and hunt for M76 with the telescope. Hope you have enjoyed my short report.
Edited by Jennifer Steinberg (editor in chief).