M51: Cosmic Whirlpool

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'll likely 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 (left), NGC 5195. The pair are about 37 million
light-years distant and officially lie within the boundaries of the small constellation
Canes Venatici. While M51 is visible as a faint, fuzzy patch in binoculars, this sharp color
picture was made with a 14 inch telescope and combines digital camera exposures totaling
3 hours and 42 minutes.