March 2010

Herschel's Quandry

NGC 1514 (photo by Chris Cole)In Taurus just over the border from Perseus is NGC 1514, a planetary nebula with an important role in history. William Herschel, based on his experience resolving globular clusters, believed that all nebulae were clusters of stars that were too faint or too remote to resolve. But when he discovered NGC 1514 in 1790, Herschel encountered a solitary star “surrounded with a faintly luminous atmosphere”. This object forced him to revise his thinking and conclude that “Our judgement I may venture to say, will be, that the nebulosity about the star is not of a starry nature”.

Although officially listed at magnitude 9.4, NGC 1514’s relatively low surface brightness and its bright central star make it a rather challenging object to see from an urban environment. Even though it isn’t the most beautiful planetary, it is worth tracking down simply because of historical interest. Here is some information to help you find NGC 1514...

(Photo courtesy of Chris Cole)