Below is an amazing image of M27 … personally, it blows me away just to gaze upon it … pause and take a closer look.
The most immediate question that springs to mind, is “What the heck is that?”. Now interestingly enough, that question is exactly why it got the name that it has; “M27”. Back in the 1770’s, a French astronomer called Charles Messier (no, not the Hypnosis guy, that was Franz Mesmer), compiled a now famous list of items he found while scanning the sky. Item number 27 on this initial list is described as:
“(July 12, 1764) `Nebula without star, discovered in Vulpecula, between the two forepaws, & very near the star 14 of that constellation, of 5th magnitude according to Flamsteed“
So in essence the name M27 simply refers to the 27th item on Messiers list.
Click here to find out more about Charles Messier
OK, so back to our question, what the heck is it? Messier identified it as a Nebula without a star, and that’s sort of correct. Its actually a gaseous emission nebula. What has happened here is that the nuclear fuel at the core of a star has run out and so its outer layers have been expelled outwards in an expanding shell. The atoms are then lit up by the intense radiation from the white dwarf start left at the center.
Its about 1360 light years away.