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Spectacular spiral

Today is National Astronomy Day, and anyone with a good pair of binoculars or a small telescope should be able to see the Whirlpool Galaxy toward the constellation of Canes Venatici. Follow the handle of the big Dipper away from the dipper’s bowl until you get to the handle’s last bright star. Then look a little to the south and west, and you’ll find this stunning pair of interacting galaxies. The Whirlpool is a classic spiral galaxy. At only 23 million light years distant and fully 65 thousand light years across, it is one of the brightest and most picturesque galaxies in the sky. Astronomers believe that the Whirlpool’s spiral structure is primarily due to its gravitational interaction with the smaller galaxy to the left in this image. Visible as a faint, fuzzy patch in binoculars or a small telescope, this image was made with a 10-inch telescope and combines digital camera exposures totaling over nine hours.

– Gary Law


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