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This is a stunning image of M51 (Messier 51), also known as the Whirlpool Galaxy, a remarkable pair of interacting galaxies in the small constellation Canes Venatici. Perhaps the original spiral nebula, the large galaxy with well defined spiral structure is also cataloged as NGC 5194. Its spiral arms and dust lanes clearly sweep in front of its companion galaxy (top), NGC 5195. The pair are about 31 million light-years distant. Though M51 looks faint and fuzzy to the human eye, deep images like this one can reveal the faint tidal debris around the smaller galaxy.
The full resolution image weighs 1.96 MB, so please be patient when downloading!
Credit: Marco Burali, Tiziano Capecchi, Marco Mancini (Osservatorio MTM)
Image enhancement: Jean-Baptiste Faure