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Spiral Galaxy M 51

It’s about 35 million light years distant, located beneath the handle of the Big Dipper. On a clear, dark night you can make out the spiral arms if you have a telescope with sufficient aperture (8 in. or so). It is actually one of the brightest galaxies that can be seen, and it is unusual in that it shows a high surface brightness, despite its face-on aspect to Earth. It is also known as M51, being a significant member of the Messier Catalog. It consists of two spiral galaxies that appear to be interacting gravitationally, although the “larger” one appears to lie closer to us than the “smaller” one. It is a favorite target for amateur astronomers in the northern hemisphere, since it is essentially circumpolar and therefore visible throughout the year during at least some portion of the night for most observers in that region. 


You should perhaps keep in mind that anything we see occurring “now” within the Whirlpool Galaxy actually occurred 35 million years ago within their frame of reference – i.e. as they saw it take place. It has taken that long for the light conveying that information to reach us across that distance.

You should also keep in mind that any trip to that location is strictly a one way affair. Even if you could travel across that distance and somehow return, the Earth would be in an entirely different location and condition upon your return. Your friends and family would have died centuries – eons – in the dim past.

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