M 97

Photo by Pittendreigh

Pierre Mechain discovered M97 in 1781. When Lord Rosse observed it, he drew a picture that looked similar to an owl's face and it has since been called the Owl Nebula.


Find the bottom of the Big Dipper's cup. The two stars forming the cup's bottom are Alpha and Gamma. Draw an imaginary line from Beta toward Gamma. You will want to slowly scan that area until you come to a triangle of stars. This triangle will be closer to Beta than Gamma and will point inward toward the Big Dipper's cup. Look at the point of that triangle and slowly scan and stop, scan and stop, until you locate either M108 or M97. M108 should be the easier of the two and you might just barely be able to see it with a very good pair of binoculars on a very good night. For M97, you will have to have a telescope.


M97 is a dim one. Forget the binoculars and don't expect to see any hint of it in the viewfinder. Don't look for the owl's face. Look for a faint circular nebula. You will probably see no features at all. This makes the Owl Nebula something that you will want to observe at greater length. You don't want to just locate this object. You want to study it. You ought to study it every evening. You know those eyes are in that owl face, and you want to see them. It will take some time.

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