The Whirlpool Galaxy

In 1845, Lord Rosse observed Messier Object 51 with his telescope—the largest telescope in the world. He was the first to see its spiral shape, which would later give it its name. Astronomers had already speculated that it was an island universe similar to our Milky Way Galaxy, but they wouldn't be proven correct for almost 100 years.

M51 is actially two galaxies. The Whirlpool itself is more formally called NGC 5194, and its smaller companion is NGC 5195. The smaller galaxy is situated behind the larger one now, but it has been orbiting it for some time. The gravity of NGC 5195 is probably what caused the Whirlpool's spiral arms to separate from one another and become so clear.

While it is enormous, the Whirlpool is three times smaller than the Milky Way, and contains less mass as well. It is estimated to be 38,000 light years across, and have 160 billion solar masses. A supernova occurred in the Whirlpool in 2005, fortunately, just after the Hubble Space Telescope had finished doing a massive survey of the galaxy, allowing us to look at an image of the star before and after it exploded. That data allowed us to estimate the distance to the galaxy as 23 million light years—closer than was previously thought.




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Finder Chart
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Credit: The sky chart program, Stellarium, available at <a href=''http://stellarium.org''>stellarium.org</a>
Hubble Image
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Credit: NASA, ESA, S. Beckwith (STScI), and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Deep Image
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Credit: Jon Christensen at <a href='http://www.christensenastroimages.com/'>www.christensenastroimages.com</a>
Zoom Locations
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Credit: NASA, ESA, S. Beckwith (STScI), and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Zoom 1: Edge of an Arm
Zoom 1: Edge of an Arm
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Credit: NASA, ESA, S. Beckwith (STScI), and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Zoom 2: Center
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Credit: NASA, ESA, S. Beckwith (STScI), and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Zoom 3: Dusty Star-Forming Region
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Credit: NASA, ESA, S. Beckwith (STScI), and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Zoom 4: Massive Star Cluster
Zoom 4: Massive Star Cluster
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Credit: NASA, ESA, S. Beckwith (STScI), and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Supernova Animation
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Credit: NASA, ESA, W. Li and A. Filippenko (University of California, Berkeley), S. Beckwith (STScI), and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Region Surrounding the Black Hole
Region Surrounding the Black Hole
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Credit: H. Ford (JHU/STScI), the Faint Object Spectrograph IDT, and NASA
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