Messier 63

This flocculent galaxy is a type of spiral without well defined spiral arms.


27 million light-years

Apparent Magnitude



Canes Venatici

object type

Spiral Galaxy

Sunflower Galaxy
The arrangement of the spiral arms in the galaxy Messier 63, seen here in a new image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, recall the pattern at the centre of a sunflower. So the nickname for this cosmic object — the Sunflower Galaxy — is no coincidence. Discovered by Pierre Mechain in 1779, the galaxy later made it as the 63rd entry into fellow French astronomer Charles Messier’s famous catalogue, published in 1781. The two astronomers spotted the Sunflower Galaxy’s glow in the small, northern constellation Canes Venatici (the Hunting Dogs). We now know this galaxy is about 27 million light-years away and belongs to the M51 Group — a group of galaxies, named after its brightest member, Messier 51, another spiral-shaped galaxy dubbed the Whirlpool Galaxy. Galactic arms, sunflowers and whirlpools are only a few examples of nature’s apparent preference for spirals. For galaxies like Messier 63 the winding arms shine bright because of the presence of recently formed, blue–white giant stars, readily seen in this Hubble image.
ESA/Hubble & NASA

Star formation is one of the most important processes in shaping the universe. In addition to birthing new stars, it gives rise to planetary systems and plays a pivotal role in the evolution of galaxies. Yet there is still much that astronomers do not understand about this fundamental process. The driving force behind star formation is particularly unclear for a type of galaxy called a flocculent spiral. Unlike grand-design spiral galaxies, flocculent spiral galaxies do not have well defined spiral arms. Instead, they appear to have many discontinuous arms.

M63, also known as the Sunflower galaxy, is one such flocculent spiral galaxy. Although it only has two arms, many appear to be winding around its yellow core in this image captured by Hubble. The arms shine with the radiation from recently formed blue stars and can be more clearly seen in infrared observations. By imaging flocculent spiral galaxies like M63, astronomers hope to gain a better understanding of how stars form in such systems.

The Sunflower galaxy was discovered in 1779 by the French astronomer Pierre Méchain and was the first of 24 objects that Méchain would contribute to Charles Messier’s catalog. The galaxy is located roughly 27 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Canes Venatici. It has an apparent magnitude of 9.3 and appears as a faint patch of light in small telescopes. The best time to observe M63 is during May.

For more information about Hubble’s observations of M63, see:

locator star chart for M63
This star chart for M63 represents the view from mid-northern latitudes for the given month and time.
Image courtesy of Stellarium

Explore Hubble's Messier Catalog

The following pages contain some of Hubble’s best images of Messier objects.

Bright green, orange, and yellow tendrils intertwined within this egg shaped nebula.

Messier 1 (The Crab Nebula)

Better known as the Crab Nebula, Charles Messier originally mistook Messier 1 for Halley’s Comet, which inspired him to create…

A Hubble image of a ball of thousands of stars

Messier 2

Hubble's image of Messier 2 is comprised of visible and infrared wavelengths of light.

Hubble view of M3 - a ball of thousands of stars.

Messier 3

Messier 3 holds more than 500,000 stars.