How to find the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51) : A Great Galaxy for a Light Polluted Sky

In this article we are going to discuss what is potentially the easiest Galaxies to see in the light polluted skies and this is the Whirlpool Galaxy or Messier 51.

M51 is a grand design galaxy see which means that it is a spiral galaxy that than facing towards us so you can see all the detail of the galaxy. M51 actually consists of two galaxies M51a and a dwarf companion M51b if you live in a dark sky area then you should view the Andromeda Galaxy first, as this is a large galaxy and in a dark area it is very easy to find with the naked eye.

However, in a light polluted area where fifty degrees of the horizon can have poor visibility due to city light pollution it can make it difficult to see Andromeda when it is in that part of the sky. This is especially so when you need to find the Andromeda Galaxy by star hopping and a lot of those stars are not visible which can make the task quite difficult.

One way to get around this problem is to look at targets higher than fifty degrees in the sky. To do this view circumpolar astronomical targets, these are astronomical targets going around the celestial pole.

To avoid this situation, I recommend viewing the Whirlpool Galaxy, which is a beautiful circumpolar galaxy.

How to find M51

Click to enlarge the M51 star chart
To find this you need to find Ursa Major constellation, part of this constellation is also known in some areas as the Big Dipper or the Plough asterisms. Once you find this constellation, find the star on the right on the end of the handle called Alkaid.

If you are unsure what star this is this is right next to Alcor and Mizar the beautiful double stars mentioned in this article now your target it is not very far from Alkaid.

So, you need to focus in on Alkaid with your 10x50 binoculars or telescope and you should see a trail of three stars going down towards a triangle, at the bottom just below this triangle is the Whirlpool Galaxy M51. Now remember if you are doing this through a star diagonal you will see a mirror image with a pair of binoculars or a small telescope you should see two fuzzy balls. But for a larger instrument an eight inch or above telescope you should be able to you make out the outlines of the spiral galaxies it is a face on spiral galaxy.

From its location you might think that the Whirlpool Galaxy is located in Ursa Major, but it is actually located in the Canes Venatici constellation.

To see what M51 looks like through a telescope, as well as a great stacked image of the M51 galaxy please watch the episode below.

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