Updated: Oct 28, 2019
Featured on The Astrophotographer's Guidebook.
M51 is one of the best galaxies to photograph for amateur astrophotographers who have already captured easier Messier objects (e.g. M31, M42, M45) and want to go up to the next level.
The reason why this galaxy is famous is because you can see the small one getting slowly eaten by the other.
The photo below was taken with an 8” telescope and our unmodified DSLR camera, it is a stack of 20, 6-minute exposure photos.
Camera: Canon t3i
Telescope: Orion 8" Astrograph f/3.9
Mount: Atlas EQ-G motorized Mount
Total Exposure Time: 2 hours
Exposure Time per frame: 6 minutes
20 lights - 20 Darks - 100 Bias
Locating the Ring Nebula
The Whirlpool Galaxy is very easy to find in the night sky. Even though it is located in the Canes Venatici constellation, you will want to use the Big Dipper asterism (in Ursa Major) to help you spot it. Simply find Alkaid, the star at the end of the Big Dipper’s handle, and shift 3.5 degrees southwest to land on M51.
Messier 51 can be spotted with binoculars as a gray patch of light. The core of the galaxy, as well as its companion NGC 5195, can be observed through small telescopes. Using bigger instruments will let you contemplate its halo and details within its spiral arms.
Discovered in 1773
M51 is devouring its companion galaxy
Three supernovas have been discovered since 1994 from the Whirlpool Galaxy
Single Shot & Processing of M51
Below is our single shot of M51. It is a very crisp and beautiful single frame that seems very promising!
This close up of M51 is from the Hubble Space Telescope. Notice how a stock DSLR camera (our image on top and below) with no filter does not show the reds seen from the image on the right.
The main challenge lies in getting enough data to make out the shape of the expelling gases from their interaction. You will also be happy to see a few tiny galaxies floating in the background of your image.
The Whirlpool Galaxy is a beautiful target that is very famous among amateur astrophotographers. You do not have to spend too much time on it and the processing is fairly easy!
Part of: The Astrophotographer's Guidebook
Description: Discover 60 Deep Sky Objects that will considerably improve your Imaging and Processing skills! Whether you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced astrophotographer, this detailed book of the best deep sky objects will serve as a personal guide for years to come! Discover which star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies are the easiest and most impressive to photograph for each season. Learn how to find each object in the night sky, and read our recommendations on imaging them in a quick and comprehensive way. Each target in this guide contains our advice on imaging, photos of expected results, and a useful information table. We've also included a few cool facts about each target, a map to find it in the night sky, and more!