M51 (the Whirlpool Galaxy at some 17 million light years from Earth) was the first galaxy that I had ever seen for myself beyond the Milky Way. 

  The story is this:  My brand new LX200GPS 14” f/10 telescope broke.  It was getting worse each day over the 6 weeks or so that we had owned it.  Two days ago my wife and I threw caution to the wind, voiding our warrantee, and fixed the thing ourselves.  In a 5 hour electrical/mechanical surgical procedure on the telescope, we installed “Buc’s Gears from Peterson Engineering” instead of shipping the whole thing back to Irvine California for a month for Meade to fix it.  The resulting repairs provided so much accuracy that not only was I able to find the Whirlpool Galaxy, but I was able to photograph it for over 3 hours with no manual tracking adjustments.  To me this meant that our repairs had worked beyond our wildest belief.

  After I took a few shots of M3 with a new CCD camera, I thought that I would try finding my first galaxy.  I used my computerized GOTO to move to a stepping stone star, Alkaid.  After syncing-up I slewed to M51.  Nothing was visible with the naked eye, nor in the finder scopes.  So I looked for a while through the main telescope at 100x before I upped the magnification to 210x.  I did slow spiral visual searches around the area where M51 was supposed to be, but I could see nothing.  It was about midnight, so I did one more computerized GOTO to a black area of the sky (the coordinates of M51) and took a picture at 30 seconds, just to see if anything was there before going to bed.  To my utter amazement there was M51 dead center on the imaging chip.  I was able to find and photograph a Messier object that I could not see visually even through high power magnification of the telescope.  Then I stayed there to 3:15am playing with the camera.  I may never find it again (maybe it was just my lucky day), so I took 10 pictures at differing exposures and techniques.  

  It was almost like seeing into heaven.

  March, 2005  

Added in 5/9/2018: Just for fun... Here is a link to my very last images taken for M-51 and published in March, 2011 and April, 2012. Look closer and you will see other, more distant galaxies in the backgrounds of the newer images.