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M27 – The Dumbbell Nebula

M27, commonly known as the Dumbbell Nebula, is a bright planetary nebula in the constellation Vulpecula. Scientists estimate that this nebula lies approximately 1,200 light-years from Earth.

If you can see the constellation Vulpecula from your backyard, there is a good chance you can view the Dumbbell Nebula with a small telescope. With an apparent magnitude of  +7.5, this nebula is brighter than most of the other nebulae in the night sky.

M27 - Dumbbell Nebula

Dumbbell Nebula Details:

  • Messier: 27
  • NGC: 6853
  • Object Type: Planetary Nebula
  • Constellation: Vulpecula
  • Distance: 1,227 light-years
  • Apparent Magnitude: +7.5
  • Apparent Size: 65 x 50 Arc Minutes

The Dumbbell Nebula was the first planetary nebula to be discovered by Charles Messier in 1764. Messier 27 is easily visible in binoculars or a small telescope, even from a light-polluted location.

In the middle of the Dumbbell Nebula, you may notice a central star. This is classified as a White Dwarf, which is estimated to have a radius of 0.13 light-seconds. As small as this may seem, it is actually quite larger than most White Dwarf stars.

Dumbbell Nebula Star Chart

Where to find the Dumbbell Nebula – Star Chart by www.freestarcharts.com

The Dumbbell Nebula is a popular target for beginners in astrophotography because it delivers incredible results with minimal exposure time.

Below, is a photo of the Dumbbell Nebula I captured in the summer of 2020. The image includes over 6 hours worth of total exposure time using narrowband filters.

Dumbbell Nebula

The Dumbbell Nebula in Vulpecula.

Astrophotography

The Dumbbell Nebula is a satisfying target to capture with a DSLR camera and telescope, as the bright color and details of M27 are revealed in a relatively short exposure. Using narrowband filters can help reveal the outer structure of this object (particularly Ha and OIII).

However, a broadband true-color image with a regular DSLR camera is quite impressive on its own.

Dumbbell Nebula

When it comes to deep-sky astrophotography using a telescope, the image acquisition stage outside is only half of the story. To learn how I process my astrophotography images in Adobe Photoshop, please see my premium image processing guide

This was one of the first deep-sky objects I attempted to photograph through a telescope, and I have since re-visited the target several times. The photo below showcases what this Nebula looks like using a stock DSLR camera and a small refractor telescope:

M27 - Dumbbell Nebula

The Dumbbell Nebula using a Stock DSLR and 80mm Refractor Telescope

This is a 1 hour and 20-minute exposure with a stock Canon Rebel Xsi DSLR through an 80mm telescope. You do not need to modify your DSLR camera to enjoy capturing many of the deep sky astrophotography targets in the night sky.

I’ve used many different cameras and telescopes to photograph the Dumbbell Nebula in the past. My first try was with an Explore Scientific ED80 Triplet APO refractor with a focal length of 480mm. At this magnification, the Dumbbell Nebula appears quite small in a sea of colorful stars.

astrophotography telescope

The Astrophotography telescope and equatorial mount used for the image shown below

The image below shows just how wide the field of view is using this telescope on a small target like the Dumbbell Nebula. For an annotated version of the image below, visit my Astrometry.net results page for this object. This free tool is a fantastic way to discover exactly what you have captured in your image.

Planetary Nebula

Video: Nebula Photography

In the following video, I document the entire process of photographing a nebula (the Dumbbell Nebula) with my telescope in the backyard. To create the final image, I used a Sky-Watcher Esprit 150 apochromatic refractor telescope, and a Starlight Xpress CCD camera

Using this particular deep-sky imaging setup, the Dumbbell Nebula appeared much larger than it did using my small refractor telescopes. Due to the increased magnification of the telescope (1050mm), the nebula was recorded with 

A similar nebula is the Helix Nebula, which I have only photographed once before. From my latitude in Ontario, Canada, the Helix Nebula does not reach very high from the Horizon. This makes photographing this target difficult.

About the Images

To capture the images of the Dumbbell Nebula shared on this page, I collected several hours worth of sub-exposures. The data was then integrated and calibrated in a software application called DeepSkyStacker.

This creates an image with a healthy signal-to-noise ratio, allowing me to effectively process the final image in Adobe Photoshop. For a better understanding of this process, please view this Photoshop image processing tutorial video.

astrophotography images

View More Deep Sky Images in my Astrophotography Image Gallery

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