The Whirlpool Galaxy is 33 million light-years distant and 65,000 light-years across. We see the Whirlpool as it was 33 million years ago. Also known as M51, it is officially located in the constellation Canes Venatici, but it is very close to the last handle star in the Big Dipper, and is high in the northern sky this time of year. A large telescope AND very dark skies are needed to see it.
The Whirlpool is made up of two Galaxies in a cosmic collision. The smaller spiral galaxy NGC5195 on the left is seen edge-on. The larger Whirlpool Galaxy spiral is seen ‘face-on’.
These galaxies distort the shape of each other due to gravitational attraction. Billions of years from now it is thought that they will merge into one larger galaxy. This happens more than you might think. Our own Milky Way galaxy is in the process of doing that as we speak. It is ‘cannibalizing’ a few small galaxies that are near the Milky Way. There are countless pictures of galaxy collisions on the Internet taken by observatories large and small. Just Google ‘colliding galaxies’.
It is this galactic tug of war that gives the Whirlpool galaxy its beautiful logarithmic spiral shape. I wouldn’t change a thing. Other Logarithmic spirals in nature are…the arrangement of sunflower seeds in a sunflower, the shape of a nautilus shell, and hurricanes.
Whirlpool Galaxy Image Technical Details…
Imagers: Rick Bria and Ted Schimenti
Location: Round Hill Observatory
Camera: SBIG STL11K
Telescope: 14.5” RCOS
Luminance data is a 93 stack of 4 minute unguided images.
Red channel is a 34 stack of 4 minute unguided images.
Blue channel is a 71 stack of 4 minute unguided images.
Green channel is a 26 stack of 4 minute unguided images.
H-alpha data is a 27 stack of 15 minute guided images.
Image Processed In Maxim DL and PhotoshopCS3