Whats in the sky?

The cold, dark night skies of February are starting to show us the first hints of spring…

Northern hemisphere

The Whirlpool Galaxy (M51)

Viewable time: All through the hours of darkness

Otherwise known as the Whirlpool Galaxy, M51 is possibly one of the most famous galaxies after the Andromeda and Milky Way galaxies. The reason for this is the beautiful photograph taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. As you can see in the picture, the larger galaxy is pulling material from the smaller in an act of celestial vandalism.

The Sombrero Galaxy (M104)

Viewable time: Mid-evening until the early hours

The picture of the galaxy shows why it picked up the name of the ‘Sombrero’ as it does look quite like a Mexican hat. There are lots of features that make this an interesting galaxy, including its bright nucleus and large central bulge and more specifically the dark dust lane running around the edge of this beautiful object.

The Beehive Cluster (M44)

Viewable time: After sunset through to the early hours

This lovely cluster, which looks like a swarm of bees around a hive, was recorded by ancient Chinese astronomers. It is full of red giant and white dwarf stars and is around 550 light years away. It also goes by the name of Praesepe, the Latin word for ‘manger’. It is also known by its catalogue number of Messier 44.

Galaxies M65, M66 and NGC 3628

Viewable time: Almost the whole night

These three galaxies, although separate, are all in the same field of view of a low power telescope and have become known as the Leo Triplet. They are all spiral galaxies but each is tilted at a different angle. M65 and M66 are at oblique angles so we can see the spiral structure, whereas NGC 3628 is edge on to us.

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