A Flower in a Field of Space


M63, the Sunflower Galaxy
Sketch and Details by Frank McCabe

There are a handful of bright springtime galaxies that can be reached by modest telescopes in the light polluted south suburbs of Chicago. At approximately 9th magnitude M-63 is one of those galaxies. A spiral galaxy with a bright central bulge of about 4”of arc, this galaxy quickly drops off in brightness where you might hope to see many short spiral arms and knotty dust bands. However they were not visible at the eyepiece of a 10 inch telescope under my sky conditions. Three days after I drew this sketch my daughter and I had an opportunity to observe M-63 under exceptionally transparent conditions at Kitt Peak National Observatory using a 20” RC telescope. The galaxy appeared much brighter and more than twice the diameter but the spiral arms were not detected at all. Never the less this is a beautiful galaxy to see at the eyepiece by direct vision. It is the astrophotography that gives this galaxy the name sunflower.

This galaxy is easily located between Cor Caroli in Canes Venatici and Alkaid in Ursa Major. It was discovered 229 years ago this month by Pierre Méchain.


9”x12” white sketching paper; 4B graphite pencil and a blending stump; after sketching a 6” circle was cut from the sketching paper;

Scanned and inverted; brightness of stars adjusted with MS Paint.

Scope: 10” f/5.7 Dobsonian: 24 mm widefield eyepiece 60x and 12 mm eyepiece 121x

Date and Time: 6-2-2008, 3:00-4:30 UT

Seeing: Pickering 7/10

Transparency: Good 3/5

NELM: 4.6

Frank McCabe

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