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The Night Sky: The Whirlpool Galaxy

If galaxies collide, and they are millions of light years away, do they make a sound?

The Whirlpool Galaxy is 33 million light-years distant and 65,000 light-years across. We see the Whirlpool as it was 33 million years ago. Also known as M51, it is officially located in the constellation Canes Venatici, but it is very close to the last handle star in the Big Dipper, and is high in the northern sky this time of year. A large telescope AND very dark skies are needed to see it.

The Whirlpool is made up of two Galaxies in a cosmic collision. The smaller spiral galaxy NGC5195 on the left is seen edge-on. The larger Whirlpool Galaxy spiral is seen ‘face-on’.

These galaxies distort the shape of each other due to gravitational attraction. Billions of years from now it is thought that they will merge into one larger galaxy. This happens more than you might think. Our own Milky Way galaxy is in the process of doing that as we speak. It is ‘cannibalizing’ a few small galaxies that are near the Milky Way. There are countless pictures of galaxy collisions on the Internet taken by observatories large and small. Just Google ‘colliding galaxies’.

It is this galactic tug of war that gives the Whirlpool galaxy its beautiful logarithmic spiral shape. I wouldn’t change a thing. Other Logarithmic spirals in nature are…the arrangement of sunflower seeds in a sunflower, the shape of a nautilus shell, and hurricanes.

Clear Skies!

Whirlpool Galaxy Image Technical Details…

Imagers: Rick Bria and Ted Schimenti

Location: Round Hill Observatory

Camera: SBIG STL11K

Telescope: 14.5” RCOS

Luminance data is a 93 stack of 4 minute unguided images.

Red channel is a 34 stack of 4 minute unguided images.

Blue channel is a 71 stack of 4 minute unguided images.

Green channel is a 26 stack of 4 minute unguided images.

H-alpha data is a 27 stack of 15 minute guided images.

Image Processed In Maxim DL and PhotoshopCS3

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

William King June 22, 2012 at 06:34 PM
Was this picture taken from the Observatory in Greenwich? Can we create similar images from our observatory in Stamford? Bill King wking@stamfordmuseum.org
Rick Bria June 23, 2012 at 04:49 PM
William, Yes, this picture was taken at the Round Hill Observatory in Greenwich. I'm sure the equipment at the Stamford Observatory is capable of taking similar pictures. Rick
Karen June 25, 2012 at 11:07 AM
Wow, nice shot! I was interested in seeing your images of the Venus Transit on June 5th, but I'm guessing you were unable to view it as you haven't posted it yet, and as weather conditions on that day were less than ideal for most of New England. Oh well...next time:)
Rick Bria June 25, 2012 at 09:19 PM
Karen, As you know, we had less than perfect weather for the Venus transit. There were 50+ people at the Bowman Observatory all clamoring for a view during the 12 – 15 minutes of clear weather. It resembled a scene out of the movie Titanic. Since I already had a picture of the 2004 Venus Transit, I let the public view this rare event and never even hooked up my camera to the telescope. In short, I ‘took one for the team’. As is usually the case, the more one is prepared to take pictures, and all equipment is ready and able, the less chance you will have clear weather. It is a part of Murphy’s Law most astronomers are very familiar with. But looking on the bright side, a lot of people got to see something they will not soon forget, and that is what the Bowman Observatory and the Astronomical Society of Greenwich are all about. Be well, Rick Bria
Karen August 13, 2012 at 06:46 PM
Rick, I never revisited this article. Sorry to miss your post! Considering this was a once in a lifetime event, it's not surprising that the observatory was so overcrowded...sorry you didn't get a glimpse of the Venus Transit either. It was a very kind and generous gesture on your part, to stand back and as you said, 'take one for the team.' Kind of starlike, I might add! :) Clear Skies!

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