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By Glenn Chaple for the LVAS

NGC 1514 – Planetary Nebula in Taurus Magnitude: 10.9 Size: 2.3’ X 2.0’

This month’s Observer’s Challenge changed William Herschel’s idea about the construction of the universe. Early in his astronomical career, he considered all nebulae to be unresolved masses of stars much as the Milky Way when viewed with the unaided eye. This idea changed on the evening of November 13, 1790, when his systematic survey of the heavens brought him face-to-face with “a most singular phenomenon; a star of 8th magnitude with a faint luminous atmosphere of circular form.” He added “Our judgement I may venture to say, will be, that the nebulosity about the star is not of a starry nature”. He catalogued it as H IV-69, his 69th Class IV (Planetary Nebulae) object.

Herschel’s find, better known by the New General Catalog designation NGC 1514 or its nick-name, the “Crystal Ball Nebula, lies in the northwest corner of Taurus. The finder chart shows its location about 3 degrees east and slightly south of the 3rd magnitude star zeta (ζ) Persei.
In the case of a typical planetary nebula like the Ring Nebula (M57), a faint central star is hidden by the surrounding nebulosity. NGC 1514 presents the opposite situation – its 9th magnitude central star overshadows the faint enveloping gaseous shell. To capture this planetary, you’ll need dark skies, a 6-inch scope or larger (the Crystal Ball has been viewed with smaller apertures by experienced observers) and high magnification (100X and up). A nebula filter like an OIII will help.

NGC 1514 is bracketed to its northwest and south-southeast by a pair of 8th magnitude stars. If their images appear sharply focused while NGC 1514’s central star seems somewhat fuzzy, you’ve hit the jackpot.
The Crystal Ball Nebula’s central star is actually binary – a stellar pair with a period of over 9 years – exceptionally long for a planetary nebula. It lies an estimated 2200 light years away.
1514 (left) visible light, (right) infrared Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/DSS

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