M51 is two galaxies colliding together at a distance of 23 +/- 4 million light-years away from our own Milky Way Galaxy, and a radius of 43,000 light years. This galaxy although it lies close to the constellation of Ursa Major, it’s actually within the constellation boarder of Canes Venatici. These are easily spotted in the average amateur astronomers backyard telescopes, and may even be visible through a pair of binoculars.
‘X’ marks the spot where M51 is located. Screen shot from astronomy freeware Stellarium.
M51 through my telescope with plenty of light pollution in the skies looks like a hazy circle with a bright central core… actually, two bright central cores. One from each galaxy as they’re colliding together. M51 shines at a magnitude of 8.4 so it’s quite easily visible from light polluted skies and will probably show even more detail through an eyepiece from a dark sky location. Previously I had drawn a sketch of M51 through the eyepiece. Amazing the difference between what you can see, and what your camera can capture with multiple long exposures stacked.
M51 – The Whirlpool Galaxy taken on March 26, 2012.
This image is 16 images at 30 seconds a piece, 10 dark frames, and 20 bias frames stacked in Deep Sky Stacker and processed in Gimp. Photos taken on March 26, 2012 with an Omni XLT 150 and Canon 350D prime focus.