Follow the Arrow to M27

M27 finderchart

Planetary nebula M27 is only a short hop away from Sagitta.

Nestled within the rich swath of Milky Way that lies between Aquila and Cygnus is my favourite planetary nebula: M27.

Also known as the Dumbbell Nebula, it’s one of the biggest and brightest of its class. Although it’s situated within the constellation Vulpecula, I find the much more distinctive figure of Sagitta the arrow provides a better jumping-off point. As shown in the chart above, simply make a near right-angle hop from the tip of the arrow to locate M27′s field.


M27 as seen in 10×50 binoculars or a small telescope at low power.

The nebula glows at magnitude 7.3, which means it’s within easy reach of binoculars, but it’s pretty small too, so you have to scan the field carefully. Normal binoculars don’t have enough magnification power to show the dumbbell shape distinctly. For that, you’ll have to use a small telescope. A 4-inch scope working at 50× shows it nicely, but to me, it’s always looked more like an apple core than a dumbbell. Maybe that’s because I grew up on an orchard. Bigger scopes pull in enough extra light to transform the apple core into something that more closely resembles a ghostly football. Have a look and see what shape you perceive.

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