Galaxy Zoo Image of the Year

The 19th door opened of the Zooniverse Advent Calendar leads us to M51, the beautiful Whirlpool Galaxy, taken on the SDSS telescope that we used for Galaxy Zoos 1 and 2.

For a few days after 25th November, the Galaxy Zoo Forum nominated their favourite galactic images from the thousands gathered over our three and a half years of existence, and voted on 48 of them. Here was the selection – as you see, it was a tough choice!


The winner was the stunning blue spiral, merging with a yellow galaxy so torn apart by gravitational forces that it would be hard to classify!


M51 is 33 million light years away and so bright that it has potential to fry the SDSS camera’s delicate optical instruments – so SDSS avoided looking at it too directly. Therefore, it has no reference number; but you can go into its pages and move up, down, right and left by adjusting the RA and DEC until you can more or less centre in on it.

M51 was discovered by Charles Messier, and put into his collection of objects that he thought were pain-in-the-neck smudges giving him false hopes of having discovered a comet! Jules wrote an Object of the Day about him and some of our other Messier Objects on the forum here. The pair of galaxies are also known as NGC 5194 and 5195. I’ve seen them described as 23 million, 31 million and 33 million light years away. The spiral is large, and famous for its dust lanes and intense star formation. You can resolve it in dark skies with a good pair of binoculars; it’s in the constellation Canes Venatici, though you find it just south-west of the brightest star of the Plough’s “saucepan handle”.

You can see a great deal more of this gorgeous object at Hubblesite, Astrocruise, NOAO and four different views altogether (and probably quite a few more) on APOD! The SDSS Telescope also has it proudly displayed on its home page, with a caption if you zoom in.

It won by only 1 vote; many other galaxies got almost as many. We’ve had plenty of time at Galaxy Zoo now to decide which galaxies we love best . . . and the answer is quite often “all of them”. M51 has never had any special attention on the forum that I recall, though it has of course had its fair share of admiration. I guess there are just too many things there to love!

A galactically happy Christmas to all our zooites from our oldest Zooniverse project.

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4 responses to “Galaxy Zoo Image of the Year”

  1. echo-lily-mai says :

    Thanks so much for writing this wonderful blog! Obviously I am very chuffed to see M51 as the winner! But look at how beautiful all the others are, and I can think of many many more I would like to add too.

    Happy Christmas to all at Galaxy Zoo!

  2. Alice says :

    Hmmmm, my Hubblesite link got broken – I expect I inserted or deleted one wrong character or something 🙂 Here it is:

    Thank you so much everyone for taking part, and the Zookeepers for making this delicious Advent calendar!

  3. NTS says :

    Speaking of pain in the neck, last night I had one trying to find M51 from my townhouse near Honolulu. After easily finding M81 and M82 with my Orion 6″ Star Blast I figured M51 would be just as quick. It wasn’t. Only after about 2 hours of searching did I finally glimpse it showing faintly against the sky background. Even bright deep sky objects can be hard to find under certain conditions. I’m glad I didn’t give up though. Keep watching the skies!

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