Pictures of the Whirlpool Galaxy

The iconic Whirlpool Galaxy is a favourite deep-sky target for astronomers and astrophotographers alike.

Whirlpool Galaxy by Steve Porter, Bardsey Island, North Wales, UK.

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.

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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.

Messier 51, also known as the Whirlpool Galaxy, is one of the most famous examples of a beautiful spiral galaxy. Credit: NASA, ESA, S. Beckwith (STScI) and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Messier 51, also known as the Whirlpool Galaxy, as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA, ESA, S. Beckwith (STScI) and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

The Whirlpool Galaxy is also known as M51, making it the 51st entry on Charles Messier‘s famous list of astronomical deep-sky objects, the Messier Catalogue.

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.

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For more info on astrophotography, read our astrophotography guides or our tutorial on image processing.
And don’t forget to send us your images. You can also share them with us via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

M51 by Brian.M.Johnson, Kelling Heath, UK.
M51 by Brian.M.Johnson, Kelling Heath, UK. Equipment: Televue Np127, Stella Cam 3, Analogue Video
M51, SuperNova (SN 2011dh) by Wayne Stallard, Essex, UK.
M51, SuperNova (SN 2011dh) by Wayne Stallard, Essex, UK. Equipment: Astro-Physics Mach1 GTO mount, Altair-Astro 8″ RC scope, SBIG ST-10XME.
M51, The Whirlpool Galaxy by Charles Thody, Lincolnshire, UK.
M51, The Whirlpool Galaxy by Charles Thody, Lincolnshire, UK. Equipment: Celestron C8, Canon EOS50D (unmodded)EQ5 mount, unguided.
Whirlpool Galaxy by Lee Housden, Essex, UK.
Whirlpool Galaxy by Lee Housden, Essex, UK. Equipment: Celestron 8 CPC, Focal Reducer, QHY5, 80mm Skywatcher Apo, Canon 450 D Modded With Clip Filter
Wide Field M51 by Chris Lock, Ipswich, UK.
Wide Field M51 by Chris Lock, Ipswich, UK. Equipment: WO ZS66 Apo, mk1 HEQ5 mount unguided, Canon 1100D DSLR.
M51 - Whirlpool Galaxy by David Burr, Wimborne, Dorset, UK.
M51 – Whirlpool Galaxy by David Burr, Wimborne, Dorset, UK. Equipment: Williams Optics Refractor 120mm with Canon EOS 500d – 12 exposures approx 45 seconds and processed using Deep Sky Stacker
M51 Whirlpool Galaxy by Mark Griffith, Swindon, Wiltshire, UK.
M51 Whirlpool Galaxy by Mark Griffith, Swindon, Wiltshire, UK. Equipment: Celestron c11 sct, skywatcher NEQ6 pro mount, Canon Eos 1100d self-modified and Astronomik CLS CCD clip filter.
M51 Whirlpool Galaxy by Mark Griffith, Swindon, Wiltshire, UK.
M51 Whirlpool Galaxy by Mark Griffith, Swindon, Wiltshire, UK. Equipment: Celestron c11 sct, skywatcher NEQ6 pro mount, Canon Eos 1100d self-modified and Astronomik CLS CCD clip filter.
M51 Whirlpool Galaxy by Mark Griffith, Swindon, Wiltshire, UK.
M51 Whirlpool Galaxy by Mark Griffith, Swindon, Wiltshire, UK. Equipment: Celestron c11 sct, skywatcher NEQ6 pro mount, Atik 383L+ camera, motorised filter wheel and Astronomik LRGB filter set.
M51 - Whirlpool Galaxy by Bill McSorley, Leeds, UK.
M51 – Whirlpool Galaxy by Bill McSorley, Leeds, UK. Equipment: SW 150P Newtonian, EQ5 GoTo Mount, QHY8L cooled ccd camera.
M51 - Whirlpool Galaxy by Bill McSorley, Leeds, UK. Equipment: SW 150P Newtonian, EQ5 GoTo Mount, QHY8L cooled ccd camera.
M51 – Whirlpool Galaxy by Bill McSorley, Leeds, UK. Equipment: SW 150P Newtonian, EQ5 GoTo Mount, QHY8L cooled ccd camera.
M51 Whirlpool Galaxy by Ian Russell, Oxfordshire, UK.
M51 Whirlpool Galaxy by Ian Russell, Oxfordshire, UK. Equipment: Celestron Edge HD 11, Optec Lepus focal reducer, Atik 460ex, CGEM DX, Atik OAG, QHY IMG0H, PHD
M51 Whirlpool Galaxy by Ian Russell, Oxfordshire, UK.
M51 Whirlpool Galaxy by Ian Russell, Oxfordshire, UK. Equipment: 11″ EdgeHD with Optec Lepus 0.62 focal reducer, CGEM DX, Atik 490ex, QHY IMG0H, Atik OAG, PHD
M51 Whirlpool Galaxy by Ian Russell, Oxfordshire, UK.
M51 Whirlpool Galaxy by Ian Russell, Oxfordshire, UK. Equipment: 11″ EdgeHD with Optec Lepus 0.62 focal reducer, CGEM DX, Atik 490ex, QHY IMG0H, Atik OAG, PHD
Messier 51 by Peter Brown, Rue Des Fontinelles, Guernsey Channel Islands.
Messier 51 by Peter Brown, Rue Des Fontinelles, Guernsey Channel Islands. Equipment: Celestron CPC1100 telescope and Cannon DSLR piggybacked to the rear.
M51 - The Whirlpool Galaxy by Bill McSorley, Leeds, UK.
M51 – The Whirlpool Galaxy by Bill McSorley, Leeds, UK. Equipment: SW 150P Newtonian on EQ5 GoTo Mount, QHY8L cooled ccd camera
M51 Whirlpool Galaxy by Mark Griffith, Swindon, Wiltshire UK.
M51 Whirlpool Galaxy by Mark Griffith, Swindon, Wiltshire UK. Equipment: Celestron c11 sct, Skywatcher NEQ6 pro mount,Atik 383L+ camera, motorised filter wheel and Astronomik LRGB filters.
M51 Whirlpool Galaxy by Roger Brooker, Kent, UK.
M51 Whirlpool Galaxy by Roger Brooker, Kent, UK. Equipment: GSO 8″ F4 Newt, Eq6Pro via eqmod, SXvH9, Baader LRGB filters. Guided with the Ts9mm OAG. Captured in Maxim DL, Processed in Pixinsight.
M51 Whirlpool Galaxy by David Pickles, Somerset, UK.
M51 Whirlpool Galaxy by David Pickles, Somerset, UK. Equipment: Sky-Watcher Explorer 190MN, QHY8L CCD, Starlight Xpress Lodestar, PHD.
M51 - The Whirlpool Galaxy by Gavin James, Marlborough, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher HEQ5-Pro, Celestron EdgeHD 800, Canon EOS 60D, Celestron OAG with QHY5-II guide camera.
M51 – The Whirlpool Galaxy by Gavin James, Marlborough, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher HEQ5-Pro, Celestron EdgeHD 800, Canon EOS 60D, Celestron OAG with QHY5-II guide camera.
M51 Whirlpool Galaxy by Mark Griffith, Swindon, Wiltshire, UK.
M51 Whirlpool Galaxy by Mark Griffith, Swindon, Wiltshire, UK. Equipment: Celestron C11 Sct, Skywatcher NEQ6 pro mount,Atik 383L+ camera, motorised filter wheel and Astronomik filters.
Whirlpool Galaxy by Alastair Woodward, Derby, UK.
Whirlpool Galaxy by Alastair Woodward, Derby, UK. Equipment: Sky-watcher 150p, HEQ5, Modded 1000d, CLS Clip Filter, DSS/GIMP for stacking and processing
M51 The Whirlpool Galaxy by Stephen Dean, Isle of Wight.
M51 The Whirlpool Galaxy by Stephen Dean, Isle of Wight. Equipment: SBIG 2000 XM CCD, NEQ6 Mount, Skywatcher 80 mm ED scope.
M51 - Whirlpool Galaxy by Alastair Woodward, Derby, UK.
M51 – Whirlpool Galaxy by Alastair Woodward, Derby, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher 150p, HEQ5, Modded Canon 1000d, CLS Clip Filter, ST80, QHY5L-II, PHD2
M51 Whirlpool Galaxy by David de Cuevas, Treize Vents, France.
M51 Whirlpool Galaxy by David de Cuevas, Treize Vents, France. Equipment: Skywatcher 150/750, EQ6, Baader MPCC Mark III, Canon 1100D Astrodon, CLS EOS Clip Filter, Orion 80/400, iNova Pla-C+
Whirlpool Galaxy by Jaspal Chadha, London, UK.
Whirlpool Galaxy by Jaspal Chadha, London, UK. Equipment: Altair Astro RC 250TT, QSI 690, Ioptron CEM60 Mount
M51 The Whirlpool Galaxy HaRGB by Stephen Jennette, Morecambe, UK.
M51 The Whirlpool Galaxy HaRGB by Stephen Jennette, Morecambe, UK. Equipment: Altair Astro 115mm Triplet, Atik 428 mono camera, Baader LRGB and H-a filters, Photoline 0.79 reducer, Skywatcher EQ8, Sequence Generator Pro.
M51 by Chris Price, Georgia USA.
M51 by Chris Price, Georgia USA. Equipment: Orion Newtonian f 3.9 astrograph 8″, CG-5 Advanced GT, Canon T3i Modded
Whirlpool Galaxy by Jaspal Chadha, London, UK.
Whirlpool Galaxy by Jaspal Chadha, London, UK. Equipment: Altair Astro RC 250TT, QSI 690 CCD, Ioptron CEM60 Mount
M51 Whirlpool by Simon Fletcher, Hereford, UK.
M51 Whirlpool by Simon Fletcher, Hereford, UK. Equipment: Moonraker Dark Matter ED80 (mk1 prototype), NEQ6 (PHD guided), Canon EOS 450D (un-modded)
M51 - The Whirlpool Galaxy by Gavin James, Marlborough, UK.
M51 – The Whirlpool Galaxy by Gavin James, Marlborough, UK. Equipment: Celestron edgeHD 800 with QSI683.
M51 Whirlpool Galaxy by Mark Griffith, Swindon, Wiltshire, UK.
M51 Whirlpool Galaxy by Mark Griffith, Swindon, Wiltshire, UK. Equipment: Teleskop service 12″ Richey-Chretien telescope, Skywatcher EQ8 mount,Atik 383L+ camera, Astronomik LRGB filters.
M51 Whirlpool Galaxy by Jason Wiseman, Paignton, Devon, UK.
M51 Whirlpool Galaxy by Jason Wiseman, Paignton, Devon, UK. Equipment: Celestron C9.25, Nikon D90
Whirlpool Galaxy by Alison Bossaert, Kirkby-in-Ashfield, UK.
Whirlpool Galaxy by Alison Bossaert, Kirkby-in-Ashfield, UK. Equipment: Sky-Watcher 200pds, Canon EOS 5D Mark II DSLR camera.
Whirlpool Galaxy - Messier 51 by Neil Isaac, Neath, South Wales, UK.
Whirlpool Galaxy – Messier 51 by Neil Isaac, Neath, South Wales, UK. Equipment: Orion Optics Europpa 200mm reflector, Starlight Xpress SXVR-H814 mono CCD, Baader LRGB filters, Skywatcher NEQ6 Pro
M51 The Whirlpool Galaxy in Canes Venatici by Pat Rodgers, Huddersfield, UK.
M51 The Whirlpool Galaxy in Canes Venatici by Pat Rodgers, Huddersfield, UK. Equipment: SW ST80, ZWO ASI130mm, PHD2, Baader ccd LRGB filters, Baader 7.5nm Ha filter.
M51 - Whirlpool Galaxy by David Attie, Abu Dhabi, UAE.
M51 – Whirlpool Galaxy by David Attie, Abu Dhabi, UAE. Equipment: C11, focal reducer x0.63, Az-Eq6, OAG Skytrack, Lodestar x2, Moravian G2-4000+internal filter wheel (Baader filters)
Whirlpool Galaxy by Steve Porter, Bardsey Island, North Wales, UK.
Whirlpool Galaxy by Steve Porter, Bardsey Island, North Wales, UK. Equipment: Meade 10″ LX 200 ACF, EOS 6.
Whirlpool Galaxy by Ron Brecher, Ontario, Canada.
Whirlpool Galaxy by Ron Brecher, Ontario, Canada. Equipment: SBIG STL-11000M, Baader HaLRGB filters, 10″ f/6.8 ASA astrograph, Paramount MX, QHY5, 80 mm f/6 Stellar-Vue refractor, FocusMax, TheSkyX.
M51 in LRGB by Álvaro Ibáñez Pérez, Nerpio, Spain.
M51 in LRGB by Álvaro Ibáñez Pérez, Nerpio, Spain. Equipment: TS115 Triplet APO refractor, Takahashi EM-400, CCD Atik 460EX mono, Baader LRGB filters, Lunático EZG-60, SXLodestar, RoboFocus, AstroMatic, MaximDL.
M51 by Lee Phillips, Kent, UK.
M51 by Lee Phillips, Kent, UK. Equipment: Atik 314L Mono, CLS filter, Celestron C8, 0.63 reducer working @ f5.9.
M51 - Whirlpool Galaxy by Steve MacDonald, Cyprus.
M51 – Whirlpool Galaxy by Steve MacDonald, Cyprus. Equipment: Skywatcher ED80 with flattener/reducer, Moravian G28300.
M51 LRGB C8 by Lee Phillips, Kent, UK. Equipment: Atik 314L Mono CCD, Badder LRGB filters, Celestron C8 + Meade 0.63 reducer working @ f5.9, Skywatcher EQ6 Pro
M51 LRGB C8 by Lee Phillips, Kent, UK. Equipment: Atik 314L Mono CCD, Badder LRGB filters, Celestron C8 + Meade 0.63 reducer working @ f5.9, Skywatcher EQ6 Pro
M51 by Jaroslav Vlcek, Czech Republic.
M51 by Jaroslav Vlcek, Czech Republic. Equipment: Newton 200/800, QE6, Atik one6
M51 and other Galaxies by James Robertson, Lake District, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher Esprit 80ED f5/400mm, Canon 750d
M51 and other Galaxies by James Robertson, Lake District, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher Esprit 80ED f5/400mm, Canon 750d
M51 & Tidal Stream by David Slack, Prudhoe, Northumberland, UK. Equipment: Celeston 8
M51 & Tidal Stream by David Slack, Prudhoe, Northumberland, UK. Equipment: Celeston 8″ F5 reflector, starlight xpress H9 mono CCD, Skywatcher HEQ5 pro mount & ASI 120mm based finder guider.
M51 by Chris Grimmer, Norwich, UK. Equipment: 10
M51 by Chris Grimmer, Norwich, UK. Equipment: 10″ Astrosib RC, Starlight Xpress SXVR H694, Ioptron CEM60
The Whirlpool Galaxy by John Cave, Huyton, Merseyside, UK. Equipment: 2m John Moore's Telescope at La Palma.
The Whirlpool Galaxy by John Cave, Huyton, Merseyside, UK. Equipment: 2m John Moore’s Telescope at La Palma.
M51 Whirlpool Galaxy by Mark Griffith, Swindon, UK. Equipment: Teleskop service 12
M51 Whirlpool Galaxy by Mark Griffith, Swindon, UK. Equipment: Teleskop service 12″ Richey-Chretien telescope, Skywatcher EQ8 mount,Atik 383L+ camera, Astronomik LRGB filters, Astro physics 0.67 reducer, Hutech IDAS light pollution filter.
M51 by Phillip Froggett, Hertfordshire, UK. Equipment: SW200p, NEQ6, Canon 60Da.
M51 by Phillip Froggett, Hertfordshire, UK. Equipment: SW200p, NEQ6, Canon 60Da.
M51 - The Whirlpool Galaxy by Duan Yuseff, Canvey Island, Essex, UK. Equipment: Ikharos 10
M51 – The Whirlpool Galaxy by Duan Yuseff, Canvey Island, Essex, UK. Equipment: Ikharos 10″ Truss RC telescope, SW EQ8 Mount, ZWO ASI1600MM-C, ZWO Filter Wheel, Badder 36mm NB Filters, Lodestar Guide Cam, Primaluce Lad Airy 72 Guide scope
M51 by Stewart Wilson, Enfield, London, UK. Equipment: ASI1600MM Cool, Skywatcher Quattro F4 250mm, Baader RGB filters, 10Micron GM-1000 HPS Mount
M51 by Stewart Wilson, Enfield, London, UK. Equipment: ASI1600MM Cool, Skywatcher Quattro F4 250mm, Baader RGB filters, 10Micron GM-1000 HPS Mount
The Whirlpool Galaxy by Pete Lawrence, Lisburn, Northern Ireland.
The Whirlpool Galaxy by Pete Lawrence, Lisburn, Northern Ireland. Equipment: Skywatcher Quattro 200 CF, NEQ6 Pro, Atik 428EX Mono, Skywatcher ST-80, QHY5L-II, Baader LRGB filters
M51 Whirlpool galaxy by Bradley Swift, Rochdale, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher 200mm Quattro, HEQ5 pro mount unguided, Stock Canon 1100D with an intervalometer attached
M51 Whirlpool galaxy by Bradley Swift, Rochdale, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher 200mm Quattro, HEQ5 pro mount unguided, Stock Canon 1100D with an intervalometer attached
Whirlpool Galaxy - M51 by Mark Large, Layer de la Haye, Essex, UK. Equipment: Altair Astro 10
Whirlpool Galaxy – M51 by Mark Large, Layer de la Haye, Essex, UK. Equipment: Altair Astro 10″ RCT, Moonlite motor focus, QSI 683wsg-8 with astrodon 2″ filters, Lodestar 2 guide camera in OAG mode, MaximDL observatory control, PixInsight image processing