Whirlpool Galaxy Facts

Whirlpool Galaxy Facts
A close galaxy to the Milky Way, and a familiar one to astronomers and stargazers, is the Whirlpool Galaxy, which is the first to be classified as a spiral by astronomers because of its shape. The galaxy is in the Canes Venatici constellation, and it can be located by following the easternmost star of the Big Dipper. Astronomers are interested in it today because of this spiral structure and the interaction it is having with a neighbor galaxy called M51b. The galaxy was first discovered in 1773 by Charles Messier while he was charting the skies looking for objects that might have been confused with comets.
Interesting Whirlpool Galaxy Facts:
In 1845, the spiral structure of the galaxy was discovered by astronomer William Parsons, who noticed the Whirlpool and M51b with his telescope at Birr, Ireland.
The two galaxies have already passed by or through each other once as the merger continues to take place.
The M51b is smaller and has been severely disrupted by the interaction, and the arms of the Whirlpool are distorted.
The interaction is causing huge bursts of starbirth in the Whirlpool Galaxy.
The galaxy has a supermassive black hole at its center and is surrounded by clouds of dust, or a dust ring. The core is quite active and causes the galaxy what astronomers call a "Seyfert galaxy", which is one of the two largest groups of active galaxies, along with quasars.
A second ring crosses the primary ring on a different axis, which is unusual.
The companion of the Whirlpool, M51b or NGC 5195, is a dwarf galaxy. Since it is being taken apart by the interaction with the Whirlpool, it cannot be easily classified, but appears as an irregular galaxy.
A bridge of dust and gas connect the two galaxies together as they merge.
The Whirlpool Galaxy is about 23 million light years from the Milky Way and its diameter is approximately 60,000 light years.
The Whirlpool Galaxy is also known as Messier 51a, M51a, or NGC 5194. It, and its companion galaxy together, is sometimes referred to as simply M51.
The galaxy is often used by astronomers to further understand and learn about galaxy structure and galaxy interactions.
The Whirlpool Galaxy is visible through binoculars under dark sky conditions, and more detail can be seen with modern amateur telescopes.
The galaxy is about 35% the size of the Milky Way galaxy.
The center part of the Whirlpool Galaxy appears to be undergoing a period of enhanced star formation, which is estimated to last no more another 100 million years.
Three supernovas have been discovered in the Whirlpool Galaxy as of February, 2016.
The Whirlpool Galaxy is the brightest galaxy in the M51 group, which includes several other galaxies.

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