Owls may be scarce near your favourite viewing spot, but the Northern Hemisphere spring sky contains one celestial owl that you can track down in small telescopes – Messier 97 (NGC 3587). Commonly called the Owl Nebula, M97 is a planetary nebula discovered by Pierre Méchain in 1781 that is currently ideally placed for observation almost overhead at nightfall in the constellation of Ursa Major, the Great Bear.
In this new image of the nebula Messier 78, young stars cast a bluish pall over their surroundings, while red fledgling stars peer out from their cocoons of cosmic dust. ESO’s Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) sees near-infrared light, which passes right through dust, permitting astronomers to probe deep into the heart of the stellar environment.
Galactic arms, sunflowers and whirlpools are only a few examples of nature’s apparent preference for spirals. A beautiful example is Messier 63, nicknamed the Sunflower Galaxy, its winding arms shining bright due to the presence of recently formed, blue–white giant stars and clusters, readily seen in this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image.