M51 (NGC 5194)

M51 (NGC 5194) is the famous ‘Whirlpool Galaxy’, seen face on. This was the first galaxy to demonstrate a spiral shape. Discovered by Messier in 1773, it wasn't until 1845 that the spiral details were noted (by Lord Rosse in Ireland).

To find M51 focus on the tip of the handle of the Big Dipper. In the same field is M51: binoculars.

The galaxy has an apparent visual magnitude of 8; its distance has been difficult to calculate, and is estimated to be between 15 and 35 million light years away, which makes it one of the closest. It is suspected that a black hole is found in its centre. The galaxy is actively forming new stars.

M51 is the brightest galaxy in what is termed the M51 Group of galaxies, which includes M63.

While you can spot the galaxy with binoculars, a medium to large telescope will bring out the spirals.

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© 1999-2014 by Richard Dibon-Smith.