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Harel Boren | all galleries >> Messier Objects > M101 The Pinwheel Galaxy
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M101 The Pinwheel Galaxy
March 20, 2010 Harel Boren

M101 The Pinwheel Galaxy

Km. 101, East Negev Desert, Israel

Canon XSi, modded, Total RGB 69 min. = 23x3 min, ISO 1600
BSPN 8" OTA at F2.8, EQ6 mount, guided w/PHD and EQMOD

The following is taken from: http://www.pasaz.org/forums/showthread.php?p=128

The Pinwheel Galaxy (also known as Messier 101 or NGC 5457) is a face-on spiral galaxy about 27 million light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major.
It was discovered by Pierre Méchain on March 27, 1781, and he subsequently communicated his discovery to Charles Messier who verified its position and added it to the Messier Catalogue as one of the final entries.
On February 28, 2006, NASA and the ESA released a very detailed image of Pinwheel Galaxy, which was the largest and most detailed image of a galaxy by Hubble Space Telescope at the time. The image was composed from 51 individual exposures, plus some extra ground-based photos.

Pierre Méchain, the discoverer of M101, described it as a "nebula without star, very obscure and pretty large, 6' to 7' in diameter, between the left hand of Bootes and the tail of the great Bear. It is difficult to distinguish when one lits the [grating] wires."
William Herschel noted in 1784 that "[M101] in my 7, 10, and 20-feet reflectors shewed a mottled kind of nebulosity, which I shall call resolvable; so that I expect my present telescope will, perhaps, render the stars visible of which I suppose them to be composed."
Lord Rosse observed M101 in his 72-inch Newtonian reflector during the second half of the 19th century. He was the first to make extensive note of the spiral structure and made several sketches.
To observe the spiral structure in modern instruments requires a fairly large instrument, very dark skies, and a low power eye piece.

M101 is a relatively large galaxy compared to the Milky Way. With a diameter of 170,000 light-years it is nearly twice the size of the Milky Way. Less is known about the mass of M101. A frequently cited number is an equivalent mass of about 16 billion solar masses. That value is almost certainly too low, and probably stems from M101's low surface brightness. New insights in its HII regions and rotational velocities have put the number between 100 billion and 1 trillion suns.
Another remarkable property of this galaxy are its huge and extremely bright HII regions, of which a total of about 3000 can be seen on photographs. HII regions are places in galaxies that contain enormous clouds of high density hydrogen gas contracting under its own gravitational force. Eventually, when the localized hydrogen contracts enough for fusion processes to begin, stars are born. Consequently, HII regions are places that often contain large numbers of extremely bright and hot young stars giving them their characteristic blue color.
On photographs M101 can be seen to be asymmetrical on one side. It is thought that in the recent past (speaking in galactic terms) M101 underwent a near collision with another galaxy and the associated gravitational tidal forces caused the asymmetry. In addition, this encounter also amplifies the density waves in the spiral arms of M101. The amplification of these waves also leads to the compression of the interstellar hydrogen gas, which then triggers strong star formation activity.


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