A face-on spiral galaxy 23 million light years from us, seen in the constellation of Canes Venatici, not far from the Big Dipper. It is similar in shape but smaller in size - about 43,000 light years across - than our own Milky Way Galaxy. Bright knots along the spiral arms are regions of star formation similar to the Orion Nebula of our own galaxy. The smaller companion galaxy, seen at the end of one of the spiral arms is interacting with M51.
The bright individual stars in the image are not in M51, but are foreground stars in our own galaxy. Under dark skies away from city lights, M51 may be faintly visible in binoculars.
(Compare this with the Canon DSLR image on the News page!)