How to find the Dumbbell Nebula (M27) in the Summer Triangle

In this article we are going to show you how to find the Dumbbell Nebula. This is harder to find than the Ring Nebula we discussed in a previous article because it is further away from the bright stars needed to locate it.

The Dumbbell Nebula is a planetary nebula and as such it is not a true nebula it is in fact formed by a red giant collapsing after it has burned off its fuel and cast off its outer layers which are illuminated by the small core of the star the newly formed white dwarf such sights are only visible for a few tens of thousands of years before the gas spreads out too far away from the white dwarf to be still visible.

The Dumbbell Nebula is a great target for both telescopes and binoculars but rather than rush to your equipment take a chance to get your bearings in the night sky this way you should find the whole process much easier.

How to find M27

Click on image to enlarge Dumbbell Nebula starchart
Click to enlarge Dumbbell Nebula star chart
We are going to be using two asterisms in this article these are groupings of stars that do not make up the 88 constellations recognized for the Astronomical Union the first asterism we will use is the Summer Triangle asterism locate the three brightest stars of the summer night sky, Vega, Deneb and Altair.

This asterism is a very useful tool for navigating the night sky first made popular by Patrick Moore. It also contains some excellent astronomical objects which we will hopefully cover in future episodes if you are having problems locating Vega or Deneb.

The Ring Nebula article discusses how to find Vega notice how one of the stars on the triangles' points. Altair is one of the three stars in the summer triangle with a bright star next to it this star indicates the section of the triangle we will be interested.

In to further pinpoint our position we need to locate the Northern Cross asterism. This is a group of stars within the Summer Triangle that makes up the cross part of the Cygnus constellation at the end of the cross.

We need to find a beautiful double star Albireo now looking between the stars Albireo and Altair is the dim stars that make up the arrow shaped Sagitta Constellation. In this constellation locate the brightest two stars that make up the shaft of the arrow. Head to the star that is closer to Deneb then head north slightly you should now see the Dumbbell Nebula.

I recommend using a O-III filter to really increase the detail in the nebula by increasing the contrast. I managed to see the faint ray of gas around the white dwarf as well as two larger masses of the gas.

To see what the Dumbbell Nebula looks like through a eyepiece as well as a more detailed stacked image please watch the episode below.


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