Pictures of the Whirlpool Galaxy
The iconic Whirlpool Galaxy is a favourite deep-sky target for astronomers and astrophotographers alike.
Could the Whirlpool Galaxy, M51, be the most famous galaxy in astronomy? It's certainly among the most recognisable, and probably one of the first galaxies that can be confidently identified by newcomers to deep-sky astronomy and astrophotography.
The Whirlpool Galaxy is 31 million lightyears from Earth in the constellation Canes Venatici and is observable through a small telescope. In fact, it is one of our pick of the best galaxies to observe in the night sky.
The Whirlpool Galaxy has a beautiful face-on appearance, as seen from Earth, enabling observers to make out its distinct spiral structure and luminous galactic core.
The spiral arms are packed with stars, gas and dust and make for the perfect conditions for new stars to be born, as that gas and dust coalesces, compresses and collapses to ignite star-birth.
In images of the Whirlpool Galaxy, hot young stars can be seen glowing bright blue along the arms, while older, yellower stars are seen glowing closer to the centre.
The Whirlpool Galaxy is probably so easily recognisable due to dwarf galaxy NGC 5195, which is the yellowish splurge seen at the end of one of the Whirlpool Galaxy's spiral arms.
NGC 5195 is gravitationally interacting with the Whirpool Galaxy, pulling on the spiralarm and precipitating new bouts of star formation in the process.
Observations using the Hubble Space Telescope have actually suggested that NGC 5195 is passing behind the Whirlpool.
M51 was discovered by Messier in 1773 and added to his list. Messier was a prolific comet hunter, and created a catalogue of objects that might be mistaken for comets in the night sky in order to increase his chances of spotting the real deal.
The Messier Catalogue has since become a sort of 'who's who' of famous deep-sky objects that astronomers love to observe through their telescopes.
Below is a selection of images of the Whirlpool Galaxy captured by BBC Sky at Night Magazine readers and astrophotographers from around the world.
For more info on astrophotography, read our astrophotography guides or our tutorial on image processing.
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