The Pinwheel Galaxy in Ursa Major is one of the most distant targets in the Starry Hill Calendar at 22 million light years away. And yet, from a dark site it can be viewed with just binoculars or a small telescope. How can this be?
The Pinwheel Galaxy is enormous. Despite its distance, it is nearly as large as the moon in our sky. And it glows with the light of a trillion stars. In comparison, our Milky Way Galaxy has between 100 and 400 billion stars making it far dimmer.
We see the galaxy face-on so that its structure of core and arms are apparent. You can see this in our photo above. Look carefully and you'll also see a few smaller galaxies. How many do you see? The Pinwheel Galaxy is also known as M101.
Viewing Pinwheel Galaxy/M101
Late March to mid-June
Find the Big Dipper in Ursa Major. It will appear upside down in Spring evenings. Draw a line from Alioth to Mizar in handle. Continue the line in the same direction for 5° (width of about 3 fingers). Then look to the right about 1° (width of a finger). A dark site is needed.
The Pinwheel will appear as a small, dim and fuzzy orb.
Use low power to find it. Then try higher power. Look for the core and spiral arms. Try drawing it; this helps to see more.