NGC 7027 -- Planetary Nebula in Cygnus
Ride on a Magic Carpet
The most widely studied planetary nebula by professional astronomers is without a doubt
NGC 7027. It is one of the brightest (8.5 magnitude), smallest (0.15 light years across),
youngest (600 years old) and visually complex planetary nebulae in the night sky. And yet,
it is not on the Messier list, in the Caldwell Catalog or even one of the Herschel 400 objects.
Most amateur astronomers are not aware of it, even though its high surface brightness
makes it arguably the most visible planetary nebula in the night sky. It is a binocular object
(star-like) that needs no nebula filter to see.
The Magic Carpet Nebula (NGC 7027) flies with the swan (Cygnus) and is an easy star-hop
from Deneb, the brightest star in the constellation. It remains star-like in low and moderate
power eyepieces. It is distinctly brighter than the field stars surrounding it. If you are not sure
if you have found it take an OIII nebula filter and pass the filter between the eye-lens and your
eye and NGC 7027 will appear to swell in brightness and the stars around it will disappear
– it is really obvious and a kick in the pants!
The best time to view the Magic Carpet is when you have a steady atmosphere. For this
object a steady atmosphere is even more important than a transparent atmosphere (same
when observing planets). The reason being is that high power is needed to tease out the
details on such a bright small object. Below 150x, NGC 7027 will remain star-like. At 243x
(the power used for the big circle in the drawing) the Magic Carpet appears as a nebulous
ellipse with a lopsided fat central star at its center. The higher the power you throw at it, the
more interesting it becomes – and it handles magnification well.
If you push your telescope to its breaking point on magnification, you may well be in for a
treat if the sky gods are kind. On the morning of July 26th, 2019, I settled on a magnification
of 536x for the high-power drawing. What appeared as the fat central star at 243x,
fragmented into a knotted inter-circle of gas globules making an interesting but delicate
pattern that ebbed and flowed with minute density changes in the atmosphere above my
telescope. My observing session ended with my head swimming with the view of intricate
patterns of gas that had been pushed out of a distant dying star – it was the best of nights.