April, May, June
Fick Calendar Home

May 2002

M51: The Whirlpool Galaxy

The spiral galaxy M51 has a companion, and they are undergoing an interaction (possibly a collision or a near-miss). The larger of the pair of galaxies looks relatively normal, except for the connection of one of its spiral arms to the smaller galaxy. Their interaction has also thrown stars and gas away from both galaxies; this material is visible as the fainter halo surrounding the smaller galaxy.

This is a extended-color image that also includes light from the hydrogen alpha filter. This addition highlights areas of newly formed massive stars, which appear as pink dots along the spiral arms. The spiral structure and ample star formation are influenced by the interaction.

The Whirlpool Galaxy is visible through a small telescope as a dim patch of light just below the handle of the Big Dipper. It lies approximately 35 million light years away.