Hubble telescope captures panorama of Andromeda galaxy

Mosaic image shows details of over 100 million stars

61,000 light-year-long swath of the Andromeda galaxy

GALACTIC CLOSE-UP  A 61,000 light-year-long swath of the Andromeda galaxy appears in this mosaic of more than 7,000 images from the Hubble Space Telescope.

NASAESA; J. Dalcanton, B.F. Williams, and L.C. Johnson/Univ. of Washington; the PHAT team; R. Gendler

SEATTLE  The Andromeda galaxy is ready for its close-up.

The closest spiral galaxy to the Milky Way appears in unprecedented detail in a new mosaic of images from the Hubble Space Telescope presented January 5 at the American Astronomical Society meeting. The final composite is a 61,000-light-year-long panorama of our galactic neighbor encompassing the light of nearly 117 million stars.

Even though Andromeda is over 2 million light-years away, the picture contains enough detail to reveal individual stars and star clusters. The center of the galaxy, filled with old red stars, sits to one side of the image. Spiral arms, home to Andromeda’s stellar nurseries, encircle the mostly dead core with young, blue stars and tendrils of dark dust. 

The image is a result of the Panchromatic Hubble Andromeda Treasury, a multi-year project to study the formation and evolution of stars by mapping part of Andromeda’s disk with the Hubble telescope. The composite shot comprises 7,398 individual exposures acquired from July 2010 to October 2013. 

Editor’s note: This story was updated January 12, 2015, to correct the distance of the Andromeda galaxy to 2 million (not billion) light-years away.

Christopher Crockett is an Associate News Editor. He was formerly the astronomy writer from 2014 to 2017, and he has a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.

More Stories from Science News on Astronomy