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Messier 63 - The Sunflower Galaxy in Canes Venatici

Updated: May 22

M63 is a beautiful spiral galaxy located about 27 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation Canes Venatici. It contains more than 400 billion stars. The Sunflower Galaxy got its name from its yellow core and the shape of its arms resembling a sunflower.



Object Designation: M63, NGC5055

Also Known As: The Sunflower Galaxy

Constellation: Canes Venatici

Object Type: Spiral Galaxy

Distance: 27 million light-years away

Magnitude: 9.3

Discovery: Pierre Méchain 1779



Photographing this target is not difficult, but it could be a little tricky for beginners due to its small size and the difference in brightness between the core and the arms. We recommend collecting about three to four hours of exposure on this galaxy, as the beautiful details in the arms, or petals, might not show if the total exposure time is too short. You'll also need a site that is away from light pollution, preferably Bortle 5 or better.


Processing the Sunflower is very exciting, as the galaxy will look somewhat dull until you adjust the colors and saturation to transform it into a beauty!


In the northern hemisphere, the Sunflower Galaxy is best captured during Spring, also known as Galaxy Season. 



 


The Sunflower Galaxy Astrophotography with a RASA Telescope

April 2024


Bortle 1 skies and f/2 RASA, what a dream!


Unlike our previous attempt in 2019, when we drove to the desert and imaged for less than 3 hours before having to drive back home, this 2024 attempt was very easy! We used our RASA telescope installed at Astronomy Acres in New Mexico and spent a total of 11.5 hours on M63. Despite the initial drive to install the rig, we did not have to pack or drive anywhere for this image as it was all taken remotely!


We have a full video covering the 10-hour drive to the observatory and how we installed our equipment there, so make sure to check it out!



Click the image to see the full-resolution version

M63 the SunFlower Galaxy astrophotography

Download our practice data for M63 and see what you can achieve!


GEAR USED:

Camera: ZWO ASI2600MC  

Telescope: Celestron RASA 8 

Mount: 10Micron GM2000 HPS

Processing: Pixinsight, with R-C Astro plugins. Final touches in Skylum Luminar Neo

ACQUISITION DETAILS:

Total Exposure Time: 11.5 hours

Exposure Time per frame: 300 seconds

Filters: N/A

Gain: 100


 

The Sunflower Galaxy Astrophotography with a Monochrome Camera

May 2019


Below you can see our very first image of M63 taken with our 8" Newtonian telescope and our ZWO ASI 1600MM camera. We did not spend a lot of time on it but it turned out beautiful and does not have much noise at all!


We like the diffraction spikes of the nearby bright stars, and the fact that you can see some background galaxies to the left and to the right of the image.


Messier 63 (LRGBHa), the Sunflower Galaxy

Messier 63 - monochrome camera Astrophotography and 8" reflector telescope

GEAR USED:

Acquisition: ASIAir

Processing: Pixinsight

ACQUISITION DETAILS:

Total Exposure Time: 2 hours and 42 minutes

Exposure Time per frame: 3 minutes

Filters: L (1.3 hours) / R (30 min) / G (24 min) / B (30 min)

Gain: 75



 


How to Find Messier 63

How to find M63 in the night sky - Map

Just like M106, M63 can be found in the faint constellation of the Hunting Dogs: Canes Venatici. An easy way to find its location is to start from Ursa Major. Locate the last star of the Big Dipper’s handle, Alkaid, then begin moving towards the brightest star of the Canes Venatici constellation: Cor Caroli. You should spot your target about halfway between both stars.


The Sunflower galaxy is bright enough to be seen with binoculars and small telescopes, but you will only be able to spot a small gray smudge.


Besides M106, there are several other nearby objects that you could stumble upon while looking for the Sunflower, such as M94 (The Cat's Eye Galaxy), M51 (The Whirlpool Galaxy), M3, or NGC 4631.



 


Sunflower Galaxy Information


M63 is home to more than 400 billion stars, and is part of the M51 group of galaxies. It was the 63rd deep sky object to be added to Charles Messier's catalo, on June 14th, 1779. Messier 63 was one of the first galaxies to have a confirmed spiral structure, thanks to Lord Rosse in the mid 19th-century.


A supernova of magnitude 11.8 was seen in M63 in 1971.



 

M63 by NASA and the Hubble Space Telescope


On September 7th, 2015, NASA and ESA released a picture of the Sunflower Galaxy taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Because of the field of view 1.83 x 1.71 arcminutes, only part of the galaxy, with the core at the center, can be seen, but that still is very impressive! The core appears detailed with a bright yellow center, surrounded by dusty spiral arms of orange and blue colors.


Four filters were used for this image, two of 452mm wavelengths and two of 794mm wavelengths.


M63 by the Hubble Space Telescope


 

Discovery and 1st Picture of M63


M63 was discovered by Pierre Méchain on June 14, 1779. Charles Messier, who was Méchain's good friend and colleague, added the galaxy to his catalog on the same night.


1st ever picture of M63
1st ever picture of M63 - Isaac Roberts - 1896


The first photograph of M63 was taken on May 14th, 1896, by Isaac Roberts. Roberts used a 20" reflector telescope and exposed for 2 hours and 55 minutes to obtain this result. As you can see, the core obviously looks over-exposed, but the fainter spiral arms look great!


M63 astrophotography 1896 vs 2024


 

Cool Facts

  • Pierre Méchain’s first discovery, in 1779

  • Is a member of the M51 Group

  • One of the first galaxies where a spiral structure was identified


Discover more about galaxies on our galaxy gallery page.

 


Single Shot and Processing of Messier 63


With our monochrome camera in 2019, we used four filters to capture Messier 63: L, R, G, and B.

Below you can see the stacked images for each filter.


Messier 63, stacked images for L/R/G/B


Stacking these 4 filters into one image gives you what you can see below. Great details in the arms, a bright core, some gas on the outer edges and a few galaxies appear more obvious all over the image.


All four filters stacked - 2 hours and 42 minutes unprocessed

M63 galaxy stacked data


 


How We Captured Messier 63


Below is our short video about our capture on M63. This is one of these very quick update videos to keep our viewers up to date each time we image something that is not part of our Episodes and is added to our Messier catalog.



 

Messier 63 FAQ


  • In which constellation is M63 located?

You can find the Sunflower Galaxy in the constellation Canes Venatici.


  • How big is the Sunflower Galaxy?

M63 has a diameter of 98,000 light-years. From Earth, it has a visual angular size of 12.6 by 7.2 arc minutes.


  • How far is M63?

The Sunflower Galaxy is located about 27,000 light-years away from Earth.


  • Should I use a filter to image the Sunflower Galaxy?

You do not need any filter to image M63. Being a galaxy, you can easily capture it with just a color camera, or L/R/G/B filters if you own a monochrome camera. If you really want the absolute best out of the object, you can also try to capture some HA within the spiral arms using an HA filter, but there isn't that much!



 


Final Thoughts


Messier 63 is not very large, but it sure is impressive! With the right processing technique, an astrophotographer can make its beautiful colors pop out in a magnificent way without over-saturating the object. There are also some nice small galaxies throughout the image that become more and more visible as you process the photo. Lastly, faint dust can be seen being expelled outwards from the galaxy, but you will need a fast telescope and dark skies to be able to see it!


Download our raw data of M63 to practice processing it on your own!



Make sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube to stay up to date with our work!


Clear Skies,

Galactic Hunter




 

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Unknown member
Oct 17, 2021

Thanks for wwriting

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