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M51: The Whirlpool Galaxy
The spiral galaxy M51 has a companion, and they are undergoing an interaction
(possibly a collision or a near-miss). The larger of the pair of galaxies
looks relatively normal, except for the connection of one of its spiral
arms to the smaller galaxy. Their interaction has also thrown stars and gas
away from both galaxies; this material is visible as the fainter halo
surrounding the smaller galaxy.
This is a extended-color image that also includes light from the hydrogen
filter. This addition highlights areas of newly formed massive stars,
which appear as pink dots along the spiral arms. The spiral structure and
ample star formation are influenced by the interaction.
The Whirlpool Galaxy is visible through a small telescope as a dim patch of
light just below the handle of the Big Dipper. It lies approximately 35
million light years away.