The Deepsky: Top-100

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Deepsky Top-100 (13): M 57, the Ring Nebula

Centred between the constellations of Hercules and Cygnus lies a small constellation with a very distinctive star pattern, Lyra (the lyre). Four stars form the main "body" of the Lyre: Beta, Gamma, Delta and Zeta Lyrae. Together they make a kind parallelogram. At the northwestern corner of this parallelogram a triangle of stars can be seen: Alpha (Vega), Epsilon and again Zeta Lyrae. Within this constellation lies the most famous planetary nebula in the sky, M 57 or the Ring Nebula.

M 57 is not only very easy to locate, it also can be observed with small telescopes and binoculars. To locate M 57 (RA 18h 53m 6s, DEC +33deg 02') we start at Vega (Alpha Lyrae). From Vega we go south-southeast for about 6 degrees to find M 57 halfway between the stars Beta and Gamma Lyrae. If you lay the middle circle of your Telrad over these two stars, M 57 should be in your eyepiece's field of view.

Finder chart for M 57. Limiting magnitude 6.5
Credit and copyright SkyTools 2 by Capellasoft

Click here to download a printable finder chart (PDF)

In my 8 x 56 M 57 still looks like a star. With my 15 x 80 binoculars I saw M 57, the planetary nebula of magnitude 8.8 and a diameter of 75" already as a small fuzzy path of light, definitely not star-like anymore. With the 4-inch refractor at 100x you see M 57 as a small ring of light, dark in the middle. With the 8-inch Klevtzov-Cassegrain you see M57 like a doughnut-shaped tube of greyish light, the middle not so dark as in the 4-inch. I never spotted the central star.

Together with NGC 7662, the Blue Snowball, M 57 is my favorite planetary nebula from my light polluted backyard

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