McNeil's Nebula in M78 home


McNeil's Nebula in M78


December 2008

Maybe you remember the sudden appearance of McNeil's Nebula in M78? This nebula was discovered as a new object in the dusty landscape around M78 in 2004 by amateur observer Jay McNeil. At that time, it was even accessible to visual observation. By movements of obscuring dust clouds moving in front of the illuminating star and due to the variability of the star itself, the nebula is a variable nebula and dimmed considerably after its discovery. An attempt to observe the nebula two years ago in 2006 with my 22" Dob failed. A photograph published on Cloudynights verified, however, a very recent brightening of the nebula. 

Equipped with a DSS printout of M78 and my 22" Dob, I tried to see if McNeil's Nebula had become again a visual target.

It proved to be not exactly easy to locate the field. Due to the obscuring dark clouds, the environment of M78 lacks stars and star patterns suitable for star hopping, and the few remaining stars are considerably dimmed. It took me therefore some time to locate the precise position and to permanently hold the faint field stars. Close to the position of  McNeil's Nebula is a close pair of stars, which are difficult to split visually due to their faintness. This double star forms an equilateral triangle with two other stars to the south and to the west. Mc Neil's nebula is next to the double star. I estimated the nebula's brightness to be somewhat lower than that of the combined double star, but it could be seen steadily with averted vision using my 22" Dob.

The DSS image shows M78 on the POSS blue plates, but lacks, of course, McNeil's nebula, the position of which is marked next to the small double star.

Credit: ESO

This close up image was taken by ESO (more information here) and shows  Mc Neil's Nebula during its first maximum in 2004.

DSS copyright notice