Hello, fellow backckyard astronomers and stargazers!
Let’s hop into our virtual spaceship and zoom out to one of the universe's most captivating sights, the M51 Whirlpool Galaxy!
Now, buckle up because we’re off on a cosmic journey that stretches across millions of years as we check out this colourful galactic wonder.
Firstly, our intergalactic GPS places the Whirlpool Galaxy roughly a mind boggling 23 million light-years away from us. That distance is hard to wrap our heads around, isn't it?
(For an explanation, see my post about understanding how far a light year is here: https://chrisdabbs.online/so-how-far-is-a-light-year)
Let's try and break it down... If we could zip through space-time aboard the fastest spaceship humanity can dream up (especially one that travels at the speed of light!), it would still take us 23 million years to get there!
Now, given that our current spacecraft travel much, much slower than light-speed, our voyage would turn into a multi-generational saga spanning countless human lifetimes. Think of the Axiom spaceship in Disney's Wall-E film.
So, at least for now, we're stuck using our telescopes and imaginations for this trip!
We're really lucky that the Whirlpool Galaxy's orientation is facing us so we see it face-on. This orientation is a stroke of cosmic luck because it allows us to admire its structure fully so we can see every swirl and twirl of the Whirlpool Galaxy's galactic arms .
We can also see and admire the coloured star-forming regions that glow a pinkish light due to light being reflected offthe hydrogen gas they contain. These areas are in contrast to the blue patches created by clusters of young, hot stars.
We can also see lanes of dark cosmic insterstellar dust that create a spellbinding contrast to the colours that remind us of the dynamic and ever-changing nature of galaxies.
So, even though we can't actually visit the Whirlpool Galaxy, our telescopes and curiosity bring the beauty of M51 right to us.
I don't know about you, but everytime I look at this gorgeous galaxy, it reminds me that the universe is full of wonders just waiting to be appreciated, and sometimes, you don't need to travel at all to see them—just look up!
Keep looking up, intrepid explorers, and keep dreaming of the stars! 🌌✨
Photographed from just south of London, UK on 20 December 2023 with a ZWO Seestar S50 Telescope. Images were stacked and post processed in Siril.