Photo by Michael Paur taken in 2009

M97 or the Owl Nebula is a Planetary Nebula found in Ursa Major.  M97 lies some 2,030 Light Years away.

M97 was first discovered by Pierre Mechain a French Astronomer on the 16th February 1781.  In 1848 William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse, hand drew an illustration which resembled an Owl’s head so much that the name stuck.  This planetary nebula is 8,000 years old and is essentially circular in cross section with a relatively bland internal structure.  It was formed from the outflow of material from the stellar wind of the central star.  The nebular is arranged in three concentric shells, with the outermost shell been about 20-30% larger that the inner shell.  The Owl like appearance of the nebula is the result of an inner shell that is not circularly symmetric, but instead forms a barrel like structure aligned at an angle of 45% to the line of sight.  The remaining dust particles are travelling outward into space at the rate of 27-39 Kilometres per second.

Finding M97