Skip to main content

On This Day in Space! Oct. 13, 1773: Charles Messier Discovers the 'Whirlpool Galaxy'

On Oct. 13, 1773, a French astronomer named Charles Messier discovered the "Whirlpool Galaxy," also known as Messier 51, or M51. 

Charles Messier was scanning the sky for objects that could confuse comet hunters when he catalogued the galaxy as M51. However, Messier wasn't able to see the spiral structure, and he didn't identify it as a galaxy. 

Spiral galaxy M51 (NGC 5194), The Whirlpool Galaxy, displays its long arms which consist of stars and gas laced with dust arranged in long lanes. NGC 5195, the small, yellowish galaxy to the right, appears to tug on one of the Whirlpool's arms, but NGC 5195 actually floats behind the Whirlpool.

(Image credit: NASA/ESA/S. Beckwith/Hubble Heritage Team/STScI/AURA)

Seventy-two years later, another astronomer named William Parsons saw the whirlpool shape, but he thought it was a spiral nebula. Eventually, Edwin Hubble found out that M51 and other features like it were actually galaxies.

Catch up on our entire "On This Day In Space" series on YouTube with this playlist.

All About Space banner

(Image credit: All About Space magazine)

On This Day in Space Archive!

Still not enough space? Don't forget to check out our Space Image of the Day, and on the weekends our Best Space Photos and Top Space News Stories of the week

Email Hanneke Weitering at hweitering@space.com or follow her @hannekescience. Follow us @Spacedotcom and on Facebook

Have a news tip, correction or comment? Let us know at community@space.com.