The Whirlpool Galaxy (M51) is one of the favorite objects for northern hemisphere skywatchers. At a distance of about 24 million light-years, this galaxy tucked in Canes Venatici near the handle of the Big Dipper shines at about 8th magnitude and covers 8.2' by 5.6', making it visible in virtually any telescope from a reasonably dark sky. The Whirlpool is not only oriented face-on to our line of sight, giving it a beautiful spiral appearance, but it is also a Type 2 Seyfert galaxy, meaning its nucleus and central hub are undergoing a burst of star formation, and it’s an interacting galaxy. The little interloper NGC 5195, visible above the main galaxy, is a separate galaxy swooshing its way past M51 and drawing a luminous bridge of material away from the center. Tiny background galaxies pepper the frame. Within the arms of M51, pinkish areas of HII regions indicate explosive events of star forming. What a cosmic perspective!
John’s amazing new shot of the galaxy was made using his 16-inch f/4.5 reflector at John Bryan State Park in Yellow Springs, Ohio. He employed a QHY8 cooled color CCD camera and a modified Canon Rebel Xsi DSLR camera, taking a total of 17.5 hours of exposures over seven nights, and merging all the data together in Photoshop
. With both cameras, he used a Celestron coma corrector and an Astronomiks CLS filter.
What a fabulously detailed image that makes a familiar old object spring to life anew. Congratulations, John!