How to Find the Sunflower Galaxy (M63) in Canes Venatici

I explain how to locate the Sunflower Galaxy in the Canes Venatici constellation, one of four spiral galaxies in the constellation. This galaxy is also known as NGC 5055 in the New General Catalogue.

This is often stated to be as easy a target to view as the close by M94 galaxy. However, it is a challenging target in a small telescope and completely not visible in a pair of binoculars.

Although in a six-inch telescope the nebulosity around the galactic core should be visible.

Due to its low surface brightness of 13.6, the Sunflower Galaxy is a challenging target to observe because usually the arms of galaxies appear brighter than the center. But in this case the centre of the galaxy is only slightly brighter than the galaxy's arms.

This is because M63 is a flocculent spiral galaxy, which means the galaxy has patchy and discontinuous spiral arms. Of course, this diffuseness makes it quite difficult to spot against a light polluted sky.

In fact, it is even difficult to image this galaxy against a light polluted sky as the light pollution tends to drown out the spiral arms.

To view this galaxy, you should wait until it is high in the sky, which should be around March to May, as this will ensure that it is away from the worst of the light pollution on the horizon.

M63 is just as easy to see as M94 if you are fortunate enough to live in a dark sky area.

In addition, I suggest using an eight-inch telescope, such as a Dobsonian Telescope, to see the spiral structure of the galaxy. However, this is not essential as I have a six-inch scope and have gotten reasonable results.

How to find M63?

Click to enlarge M63 star chart
Location wise M63 is in Canes Venatici, a northern hemisphere constellation, which itself is located near the easy to find Ursa Major constellation.

Starting with the big dipper or the plough asterism, traverse the handle of the plough past Alioth, Alcor and Mizar before ending with Alkaid.

Draw an imaginary line from Alkaid to the brightest star in the Canes Venatici constellation, Cor Corali. As you head down this line you are going past the M51 galaxy I have covered previously. However, you will want to continue heading down towards Cor Corali.

If you see a triangular group of stars, you have already gone too far and need to head back up a little.

You will need to use a medium power eyepiece to locate the galaxy and you will need to look for a slightly fuzzy patch of light.

I captured about one hours’ worth of images to create a stacked image and drizzled image of M63, shown in the episode below.

This is where the images have been combined to reduce the noise and improve the quality of the image as well as to increase the sharpness and size of the image.

This proves it is possible to capture even with smaller equipment and high levels of light pollution the arms of the Sunflower Galaxy when viewed with a six-inch telescope from Bortle 7 area.

The Sunflower Galaxy is a massive one hundred and thirty thousand light years across, and it contains over four hundred billion stars.

Even though there appears to be a large distance between M63 and M51 as you saw from the star map earlier. The galaxies M63 and M51 are gravitationally bound together with six other smaller galaxies.

After you have observed the Sunflower Galaxy you might want to look at the nearby M106 galaxy.

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