Whirlpool Galaxy Deep FieldNASA - May 26, 2009
Many spiral galaxies have bars across their centers. Even our own Milky Way Galaxy is thought to have a modest central bar. Prominently barred spiral galaxy NGC 6217, pictured above, was captured in spectacular detail in this recently released image taken by the newly repaired Advanced Camera for Surveys on the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope. Visible are dark filamentary dust lanes, young clusters of bright blue stars, red emission nebulas of glowing hydrogen gas, a long bright bar of stars across the center, and a bright active nucleus that likely houses a supermassive black hole. Light takes about 60 million years to reach us from NGC 6217, which spans about 30,000 light years across and can be found toward the constellation of the Little Bear (Ursa Minor).
The Whirlpool Galaxy (also known as Messier 51a, M51a, or NGC 5194) is an interacting grand-design spiral galaxy with a Seyfert 2 active galactic nucleus in the constellation Canes Venatici. Recently it was estimated to be 23 ± 4 million light-years from the Milky Way, but different methods yield distances between 15 and 35 million ly. Messier 51 is one of the best known galaxies in the sky. The galaxy and its companion (NGC 5195) are easily observed by amateur astronomers, and the two galaxies may even be seen with binoculars.[ The Whirlpool Galaxy is also a popular target for professional astronomers, who study it to further understand galaxy structure (particularly structure associated with the spiral arms) and galaxy interactions. Read more ...
Follow the handle of the Big Dipper away from the dipper's bowl, until you get to the handle's last bright star. Then, just slide your telescope a little south and west and you might find this stunning pair of interacting galaxies, the 51st entry in Charles Messier's famous catalog. Perhaps the original spiral nebula, the large galaxy with well defined spiral structure is also cataloged as NGC 5194. Its spiral arms and dust lanes clearly sweep in front of its companion galaxy (right), NGC 5195. The pair are about 31 million light-years distant and officially lie within the boundaries of the small constellation Canes Venatici. Though M51 looks faint and fuzzy in small, earthbound telescopes, this sharpest ever picture of M51 was made in January 2005 with the Advanced Camera for Surveys on board the Hubble Space Telescope.
The Whirlpool Galaxy is frequently given as an example of a galaxy with classic spiral design. At only 15 million light years distant, M51, also cataloged as NGC 5194, is also one of the brighter and more picturesque galaxies on the sky. The smaller galaxy appearing here above and to the right is also well behind M51, as can be inferred by the dust in M51's spiral arm blocking light from this smaller galaxy. Astronomers speculate that M51's spiral structure is primarily due to it's gravitational interaction with this smaller galaxy.
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