M81 and M82

In our sky, close to the handle of the Big Dipper are the two galaxies M81 (Bode’s Galaxy, right) and M82 (Cigar Galaxy, left). These are two of the closest galaxies to our own Milky Way and two of the brightest galaxies in our sky that can be observed with amateur telescopes. Photographer and CIERA graduate student Imran Sultan captured this image in full color from dark skies in central Illinois. 

The beautiful spirals of M81 are visible; looking closely, viewers can also see the famous red filaments of M82, which are produced by an ongoing burst of star formation in this “starburst galaxy.” To illustrate that the two galaxies lie well beyond our own, Sultan applied a “tilt-shift” effect to the image to blur the stars, which are all foreground stars in our Milky Way Galaxy. The galaxy NGC 3077 is also visible in the bottom right. 

Sultan, who practices astrophotography in his free time, is a graduate student in CIERA Professor Claude-Andre Faucher-Giguere’s group. In 2023, Sultan’s photo of the Western Veil Nebula and the Flower Moon won first place and runner-up respectively in the astronomy category of the Royal Society Publishing Photography Competition.

Credit: Imran Sultan/Northwestern/CIERA

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