Find the Northern Pinwheel Galaxy (M101), in Ursa Major and it's hidden surprises

In this article we are going to discuss how to find the Northern Pinwheel Galaxy, a beautiful galaxy but it also comes with many hidden surprises.

Unfortunately, the name Northern Pinwheel Galaxy is confusing considering that M33 also has the nickname the Pinwheel Galaxy. If you are interested in M33 instead then his article covers the M33 galaxy in more detail, but I would urge you to carry on reading as M101 has a lot to it.

What is really exiting about the M101 Northern Pinwheel Galaxy is that you can see objects in it other than just the galaxy. However, more on that later.

Click to enlarge the M101 star chart
To find the Northern Pinwheel Galaxy you first need to find the Ursa Major constellation then find the binary stars Alcor and Mizar there is more information on these two stars in this article.

Then follow this small trail of stars until you find the M101 Galaxy just above the final star in a diagonal direction.

Do not expect to see a spiral galaxy when you are looking at the Northern Pinwheel Galaxy you are probably going fuzzy patch instead. Watch the episode below for some an image of what you can see.

The Hidden Surprises in M101

Once you have found M101 take your time and use averted vision to look around the galaxy so do not look directly at the galaxy but look at what you can see around it and hopefully you can find some of the fainter patches that are objects within the galaxy itself.

One such object is NGC 5461 you should be able to see it with a medium powered telescope. I found this had quite strong surface brightness and stood out quite a bit what is fascinating about this object it is a nebula within the Northern Pinwheel Galaxy itself I think that it is amazing that it is possible to see a nebula within another galaxy with your own eyes so it is really something you should try to do. To be visible like this the nebula must be truly gigantic.

To see all the following objects in the Northern Pinwheel Galaxy you are going to need a telescope of at least ten or twelve inches so lets.

First there is NGC 5458 another nebula this time containing many bright blue stars to the side of this nebula is NGC 5453 moving further out to two more nebulae NGC 5451 and NGC 5449 the final two nebulae are NGC 5450 and NGC 5447. Larger telescopes, such as a 12 inch Dobsonian Telescope, should be able to show a dark gap between these two nebulae do not worry if you cannot find any of these targets visually many of them are very dim however it is a great achievement to be able to say you have seen a nebula or nebulae in another galaxy.

I have annotated the positions of all of these objects in this episode below so you will know what to look for.


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