Cruising around Taurus, checking out the normal targets, I wanted to hunt down a challenge object. Awed at the Pleades and Hyades clusters (both naked eye and through a 4” f/9 refractor)m and then barely squeaking in a peak at M1, visible, but more of my imagination was needed. I thought there had to be an object in this region that I could view with an 8” SCT, and yet had a bit of a challenge factor to it.
A fuzzy snowball was in order. Being a fan of the spent matter from a star that didn’t have the “stuff” to go super nova is always intriguing to me. A quick reference to the SkyX, resulted in quite a few targets. The first ones were listed as planetary nebulae of unknown magnitudes, and I know what that normally means…not with an 8” SCT ☺.
So on forth went my search for a planetary nebula. Finally found one hanging out around the constellation border between Taurus and Perseus. NGC 1514 – The Crystal Ball Nebula. What a wonderful name at that! Wow! Like I was going to look into something majestic and pouring out wonder into my mind. Now this excited me, and with fantastic reasons, as this is not your typical planetary nebula. This is a planetary nebula occurring…well sort of.
Bringing the nebula into center and focus, the first thing I noticed was what looked like a small version of M97, the Owl Nebula. That was at first glance. I had to throw quite a bit of power on, resolving the best image with my 12mm Nagler. A great image at that for a ~10th Magnitude fuzzy.
Then I looked closer…holy cow, there is a rather large star at the center of this planetary nebula, and it was quite bright. Hmmm, my mind started to wander, and wander, and wander. Of course I had to come up with some crazy theories at first. Like maybe a Hyper-Velocity Star was going for a stroll. Nah….there would be gas displacement all over the place. I then went to something simple, like maybe there was a star in front of it…nope…the gas was definitely in front of it. Hmmm…ooooh maybe this PN is in process? I would find out later all of these crazy ideas were wrong!
Here are some stats on the planetary nebula (source: TheSkyX):
Object Name: NGC 1514
Name 2: Crystal Ball Nebula
Object Type: Planetary Nebula
RA (current): 04h 09m 57.107s
Dec (current): +30° 48′ 16.691″
RA (2000.0): 04h 09m 17.000s
Dec (2000.0): +30° 46′ 34.998″
Distance: 600 ly (this is an estimate published on wikipedia)
Major Axis: 2.2
Minor Axis: 2.2
Axis Position Angle: 00° 00′
Air Mass: 1.13
Source Catalog: Revised NGC
Blue mag: 10.0
Oh very cool, it has an appreciable blue magnitude. Now that is interesting, so I broke out my OIII filter, and that sharpened up some more detail, and dulled the effects of the central star some. I was fairly confident after about 20 minutes that the apparent central star was indeed a central star to this system due to the even illumination of the nebulous portion of the object.
When I returned home, I learned so much more about this fantastic object. I would have never guessed this, but it’s not the typical mold of a planetary nebula.
The central star is indeed a central star, and it is about 3-4x the size of our Sun, and is definitely the right class of star to form a planetary nebula. The gaseous cloud however is not likely due to the star being at the end of its life, but rather likely due to its binary friend that orbits the bigger star every 4-9 days – wow that is cruising! The gas cloud around the object is increasing outwardly at an approximate rate of 25 km/s. All of this motion strongly suggests that the two stars are ripping each other apart over time. Now that is fantastic! What a great find to stumble upon.
Now please do not pass this information onto the International Astronomical Union, as they may try and demote this system from its planetary nebula status. It will be Pluto all over again ☺
Seriously though, this is an object to keep an eye on throughout one’s life, as it will be generating noticeable visual changes as time pushes forth.