It’s springtime, and we have some galaxies to look at this month.
I’m Jane Houston Jones with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Even through binoculars you can see other galaxies. Just look to the north, on one side or the other of the Big Dipper.
Near the “dipper” part are a pair of galaxies called M81 and M82. These two galaxies are very close together, and they can both be seen in the same binocular or telescope view. M81 is a spiral galaxy. And it’s much bigger than the other galaxy.
Through a telescope you can see the spiral arms of this galaxy. And in binoculars what you’ll see is an oval smudge.
M82, on the other hand, will look in binoculars like a little straight line. In fact, its nickname is the Cigar Galaxy. But through a telescope you’ll actually see little knots of gas and stars.
These galaxies were also imaged by the Spitzer Space Telescope. Spitzer was looking past the dust, at the stars, to learn more about their composition, what material is being blown off of stars and the distribution of stars in the spiral arms.
Through a telescope or through binoculars you won’t see the color. But you will see a beautiful shape.
On the other side of the Big Dipper, near the handle, is M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy. The Whirlpool Galaxy is actually two galaxies that look to be connected, but they’re not. This galaxy has also been studied by the Spitzer Space Telescope.
Through binoculars, M51 will look like a circular smudge. In a telescope you’ll actually be able to see which way the spiral arms are spiraling.
In addition to the galaxies, we can also see both Saturn and Mars in the western sky this month. It’s really fun to look at Mars right now, because the Mars Phoenix Lander will land at the end of May.
That’s all for this month. I’m Jane Houston Jones.› View Vodcast