Galaxies visible with binoculars

Written by marion sipe
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Galaxies visible with binoculars
The more powerful the binoculars, the more definition you'll see. (galaxy image by Sergey Galushko from Fotolia.com)

The night sky is a fascinating sight, filled with stars, galaxies, nebula and more. Some of these objects are even visible with the naked eye, although many more can be seen with a pair of binoculars, including nebula, comets and entire galaxies. Galaxies are huge systems of stars held close to one another by the attractions of their mutual gravities, yet separated from other systems by vast regions of space, and there are several viewable from Earth.

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Milky Way

Our very own galaxy is, of course, the easiest to see with or without binoculars. With binoculars, what once was a hazy silver cloud across the night sky becomes a tracery of trillions of stars. Because it's all around us, the Milky Way is large and diffuse and the brightest sections of it are not always visible from every place on Earth. Repeated viewings are the best way to get a great view of our home galaxy.

Andromeda Galaxy

Also known as M31, the Andromeda galaxy is the closest full-sized galaxy to the Milky Way. It contains something like a trillion suns and is still 2.3 million light years away. Though it is visible to the naked eye, you'll need good eyesight and a pretty dark sky. Through binoculars, it's easy to pick out. The Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy are actually on a collision course with one another. In 3 billion years, the two will collide and those trillion stars will be a lot easier to easy with the naked eye.

M32

M32 is one of fourteen dwarf galaxies that orbit Andromeda, much the way the Magellanic Clouds orbit our own Milky Way. It's also one of two that you can see through binoculars. The other is M110, and it's a lot harder to find.

The Whirlpool Galaxy

Also known as M51, this galaxy is about 35 million light years away. To see it through binoculars you'll need a clear dark night. Through binoculars it appears as a round glow with a bright centre, or nucleus. In fact, it's a spiral galaxy like our own Milky Way, but a good telescope is needed to define its shape.

Southern Pinwheel Galaxy

Also known as M83, this is a bright spiral galaxy and very close at only 10 million light years away. It's an array of colours, with yellow older stars in the centre, young blue stars along its spiralling arms and many red gaseous nebulae, the birth places of stars. Over the past 60 years, there have been at least six supernovae in this galaxy.

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