NGC 6853



From Jim Kaler's STARS; Return to Planetary Nebulae

M 27 M 27
"One of the 'giants' of the planetary class and of great importance in theories of planetary structure because of the easy visibility of its intricate details" (Curtis). The Dumbbell Nebula, in the modern constellation Vulpecula, is so large (up to 8 mintues of arc across) and bright that it is visible in large binoculars. Through a small telescope it takes on a looming 3-D appearance in a wonderful setting against the Milky Way. It's easily found just south of 14 Vulpeculae, and is visible in large binoculars. The photograph on the left shows the whole structure with the 14th magnitude (14.0) central star at dead center. The nebula shows "point symmetry," each side (upper left and lower right) similar, but reversed. At a well-known distance of 1200 light years (determined through direct parallax), at maximum extent, the nebula is about 2 light years in diameter, and would stretch halfway from the Sun to Alpha Centauri. The blue central star, with a temperature of 160,000 Kelvin, is essentially a hot, though cooling, white dwarf with a luminosity of a few hundred times that of the Sun.

On the right is an incredibly detailed view of the lower right portion of the full older image, as seen with the Hubble Space Telescope. It reveals an intricate knotty structure that is common in planetary nebulae. The knots are dense, dusty, neutral regions surrounded by the hot ionized gas. The central star is off the image toward the upper left.

The structure may be similar to that of the Ring Nebula in Lyra, just seen from a different perspective.

Left: Image and quote by H. D. Curtis from Publications of the Lick Observatory, Volume 13, Part III, 1918. Right: NASA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI and NASA) with thanks to C. R. O'Dell (Vanderbilt U.)