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The Whale Galaxy and Hockey Stick Galaxy | How to Photograph Both Galaxies

Updated: May 18, 2023

The Whale Galaxy (NGC 4631) and the Hockey Stick Galaxy (NGC 4656/NGC4657) are two barred spiral galaxies located in the constellation Canes Venatici. The Whale and the Hockey Stick are beautiful objects that are often photographed together due to their proximity to one another.

We imaged these targets from a Bortle 4 zone and spent about 3 hours on them using our refractor telescope and one-shot-color camera.

Object Designation: NGC 4631, NGC 4656 & NGC 4657

Also known as: The Whale Galaxy (NGC 4631) and the Hockey Stick Galaxy (NGC 4656/57)

Constellation: Coma Berenices

Object Type: Grand Design Spiral Galaxy

Distance: 30 (Whale) & 25 (Hockey Stick) million light-years away

Magnitude: 9.8 (Whale) & 11.0 (Hockey Stick)

Discovered in: 1787

The Whale Galaxy astrophotography with amateur equipment
The Whale Galaxy - Crop from our full image

On the left is a zoomed-in image of the barred spiral galaxy NGC 4631, also called the Whale Galaxy.

The object is obviously seen edge-on, and is full of beautiful details! It is mostly blue, with a bright yellow/orange core.

You may notice a tiny galaxy just above the Whale. This is NGC 4627, a dwarf elliptical galaxy orbiting the larger NGC 4631.

Both NGC 4631 and NGC 4627 are believed to have an impact on the strange shape of the nearby Hockey Stick Galaxy. Learn more about this object below!

The Hockey Stick Galaxy astrophotography with amateur equipment
The Hockey Stick Galaxy - Crop from our full image

The Hockey Stick Galaxy, sometimes named the Crowbar Galaxy, can be seen on the right!

The Hockey Stick Galaxy has two designations: NGC 4656 and NGC 4657. This is because the object is actually made up of two interacting galaxies. The "handle" of the Hockey Stick (or crowbar) is the galaxy NGC 4657, while the actual stick is NGC 4656.

Below is our full image! The Whale Galaxy can be seen near the top half of the frame, and the Hockey Stick Galaxy near the bottom half.

Our image of M99 (bottom right) and M100 (top left).

The Whale Galaxy and Hockey Stick Galaxies astrophotography


Camera: QHY600C

Telescope: Stellarvue SVX130

Mount: Astro-Physics Mach1

Accessories: Moonlite Nitecrawler focuser

Processing: Pixinsight


Total Exposure Time: 3 hours

Exposure Time per frame: 5 minutes

Filters: N/A

Gain: 26


How to find the Whale Galaxy and the Hockey Stick Galaxy?

How to find the Whale Galaxy in the night sky, constellation map

The Whale and the Hockey Stick Galaxies can be found in the constellation Canes Venatici. This area of the sky is famous for hosting the following beautiful Messier objects:

  • Messier 3 - A bright globular cluster

  • Messier 51 (The Whirlpool Galaxy) - A unique pair of interacting galaxies

  • Messier 63 (The Sunflower Galaxy) - A bright and colorful galaxy

  • Messier 106 - A large galaxy full of hydrogen-alpha

Make sure to click on each object to learn more about these objects and see our images!

NGC 4631 and NGC 4656/5657 are bright, but not large enough to be seen with binoculars and small telescopes. A large size instrument is needed to really appreciate the visual features of these galaxies. Without a GoTo mount, these objects are difficult to find as they are nowhere near any bright star, and the constellation itself is difficult to spot as it is only made up of two stars.

The best way to find the Whale or the Hockey Stick Galaxy manually is to first locate Cor Caroli, which is fairly bright in comparison to the other surrounding stars, and drift south towards Coma Berenices.


Processing the Whale and Hockey Stick Galaxies

Processing several different objects within the same frame is usually tricky, but it actually is a breeze for the Whale and Hockey Stick! Both galaxies are seen edge-on and also have similar brightness, size, and colors.

The easiest way to process this image is to put your attention to the larger object: the Whale Galaxy. The details and colors in the Hockey Stick will naturally come along as you work on the Whale and should be natural. Although you shouldn't have to, feel free to use individual masks on each galaxy if one of the two gets blown out or saturated during your processing workflow.

The Whale and Hockey Stick Galaxies after Stacking
The Whale and Hockey Stick Galaxies after Stacking

The image above shows what our image looked like after stacking our data. It is unprocessed, and the first thing we did was a Dynamic Crop to get a closer view of our targets!

Want to learn how I process all our images? Check out our processing workflow HERE.


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Final Thoughts

The Whale and the Hockey Stick Galaxies are fascinating objects that are great for slightly experienced astrophotographers. Capturing both objects in the same frame is easily doable with most telescopes, but imaging each individually with a large instrument is even more rewarding... and something we need to add to our To-Do list!

Have you captured the Whale Galaxy and/or the Hockey Stick Galaxy? Attach your image in the comments and let us know your acquisition details!

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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