Monday, May 24, 2010

Whirlpool Galaxy

Click on Image for a larger view
One of most popular galaxies for amateur astronomers is the Whirlpool Galaxy, a grand spiral in the consetllation Canes Venatici.  Even though it is 23 million light years away, it can be seen as a fuzzy spot of light in a pair of binoculars, although you will need dark skies away from the city lights and know exactly where to look.  In a telescope, the spiral structure starts to be seen along with a smaller galaxy seemingly attached to one of the spiral arms of the larger galaxy.
Click on Image for a larger view
But only through long exposure photographs can we see detail that is too faint for our eyes.  The top image is a view of the whole area covered by my 1000mm focal length telescope.  Back in March, 2009, I took an image of this galaxy with my 300mm telephoto lens.  Compare this view with the much wider view of that lens by clicking on this link:
The bottom image is a close-up view showing the interaction taking place between the two galaxies.  Radio astronomers have been able to show that the smaller galaxy has merged with the larger one at least twice before.  The faint extensions seen around the galaxies are caused by material from both galaxies being flung out by the gravitational forces during the interactions.

The image is a combination of five 10-minute exposures with my 190mm f/5.3 telescope.

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