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Spring skies show off Whirlpool Galaxy in Arizona

(NASA-ESA-STScl-Hubble Heritage Photo)

With the season of spring upon us, we are slowly getting outside and this is a great time to explore the many wonders of our Arizona skies.

With the moon moving on to its full phase on March 28, we are just around the corner for some great views of a most amazing galaxy, located near the well known constellation of Ursa Major (Big Dipper).

As we move into mid-April, we will be ready for a new moon and the return of dark skies to help you locate the great Whirlpool Galaxy, also known as M 51.

Located near the tail star of the Big Dipper, the star Alkaid leads us in the direction of one of the most amazing spiral galaxies that we know of.

The object that we are looking for is a near perfect spiral galaxy, located some 31 million light years distant.

Here is a great image of the Whirlpool Galaxy.

It was the first galaxy to be classified as a spiral galaxy and was discovered Oct. 13, 1773 by the famous comet observer, Charles Messier, who the Messier Catalog of sky objects is named for.

There is a companion galaxy which is known as NGC 5195 and was discovered back in 1781.

The diameter of the whirlpool is estimated to be some 76,000 light years in size!

This is one object that you can actually see with a small pair of binoculars and some dark skies.

Here is a finder chart for the Whirlpool Galaxy, located in the constellation of Canes Venatici.

We all know that we live in a spiral galaxy too. The Milky Way is our home galaxy, but the view of the Whirlpool Galaxy offers us some perspective as to what the real shape of our Milky Way might be like.

Try your hand in finding this amazing galaxy on your own, or with your more advanced telescope. This is just one example of the many billions of galactic systems which populate our amazing universe.

If you do succeed in finding this amazing object, here is a list of all the remaining objects in the Messier Catalog.

It is filled with not only galaxies, but star clusters, nebulae and many other amazing objects for you to find with binoculars and telescopes.

There are some more advanced observers that can actually find most if not all these listed objects in one night of observing.

Try your hand at this ultimate journey into the night skies!

To print your own monthly star chart, click here.

To view satellites/dates/times of passage, click here

Listen to the Dr. Sky Show on KTAR News 92.3 FM every Saturday at 3 a.m.

Arizona open and hiring: If you’re looking for job openings, visit ktar.com/arizonahiring.

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