Messier 51 ~ The Great Whirlpool Galaxy
Optics:   Ritchey–Chrétien 20" F/8.2 (4166mm FL) Processing:   PixInsight, Photoshop
Camera:   SBIG STXL-11000 with Adaptive Optics Date:   May-June, 2020
11 Megapixel (4008 x 2672 16-bit sensor) Location:   Columbus, Texas
Exposure:   LRGB = 480:100:60:100 minutes Imager:   Kent E. Biggs
Probably the best known, most often observed galaxy in the northern hemisphere, the Whirlpool Galaxy is one of the brightest and most beautiful of spiral galaxies. Also known as M51, it is another example of colliding galaxies where the larger galaxy on the left, NGC 5194, may absorb the smaller right side galaxy, NGC 5195, annotated by hovering over the image. While these two massive galaxies may be passing each other and just shaking hands, most likely NGC 5195 has passed through the galactic plane multiple times, caused increased star formation along the arms, and is currently lies behind the larger galaxy NGC 5195.. Even through small telescopes the pair of galaxies is visible; through a 6-8" telescope you can start to resolve the wonderful galaxy arms. Note how the arms of NGC 5194 are slightly bent, likely due to the gravitational distortion of NGC 5195. M51 is also a Seyfert galaxy, which accounts for about 10% of all galaxies. Seyferts have very active central cores powered similarly to those of quasars, but much closer by and less luminous. We now know that supermassive black holes surrounded by accretion disks of doomed material dominate the centers of these galaxies. Visible on the left side of NGC 5194 is a group of red colored emission nebula visible over the bue spiral star arms. The red color indicate gas and dust being excited by nearby stars. The blue color shows areas of active star formation, where young hot stars glow blue-white. Finally the ghostly white areas around the galaxy are 100s of millions of stars so far away thay apear as faint cloudy puffs of smoke. Note also visible are two visually smaller galaxies IC 4277 and IC 4278.

Two very exciting phenomena are also visible in this image. First, is the detection of a very distant quasars at 11.1 billion light years away, meaning it’s light left it when the universe was only 2-3 billion years old; today the universe is about 13.7 billion years old (see annotation by hovering over the image). Quasar is short for quasi-stellar object or QSO. They are extremely bright active galaxies powered by supermassive black holes of tens of billions of solar masses. This means 10,000,000,000 suns have been squeezed into an infinitesimally small point. Their brightness can exceed thousands of times the brightness of our whole Milky Way galaxy of 200 billion suns. Because they are so far away, they are likely the cores of very young, very active galaxies and since our universe is expanding faster the further an object is away from us, they have large red shifted spectrums. This Quasar, designated J133004.71+472301.0 is a galaxy with a redshift near 3.0, meaning it is moving away from us at nearly 90% the speed of light, is 11 billion years old, and was 11 billion light years away at the time its light left it. Today however it is nearly 18 billion light years away from us and therefore outside of our visible universe. Light leaving it today will never reach us.

A second exciting phenomena is an apparent jet of blue material that can be seen just to the right of the core of NGC 5195 as annotated by hovering over the image. This is likely a jet of newly formed stars being disrupted, perhaps even expelled into intergalactic space by the merging galaxies. There are trillions of stars in intergalactic space not associated with a parent galaxy. Civilizations inhabiting these star systems would never know the beauty of the Milky Way like we do.

Below is the same image, same data with my previous pre- and post- processing workflow. Hovering over the below image shows a direct comparison to the current processing workflow using PixInsight software for the majority of stacking and sharping, with Photoshop use for final touch-up. Note the improved color throughout the image from object to stars, as well as the visibilty and more natural look of very faint stars and object details.

The stats for M51 are Constellation: Canes Venatici, RA: 13h 29m 53.3s, Dec: +47° 11' 48, Magnitude: 9.0 (B), Size: 10.3'x8.1', Class: SA(s)bc pec.