NASA has released a stunning panoramic mosaic of our closest galactic neighbor, the Andromeda Galaxy. The image was captured by NASA's flagship Hubble Space Telescope, and features an impressive 100 million stars spanning 40,000 light years. The image is comprised of 1.5 billion pixels and represents Hubble's largest mosaic to date.
Hubble captured roughly a third of Andromeda, from the galactic bulge on the left of the mosaic to the sparser outskirts of the galaxy's saucer shaped disk on the right. The legendary telescope used its Advanced Camera for Surveys to image the galaxy in visible, near-ultraviolet and near-infrared wavelengths. In all, 411 staggeringly high definition images were combined to create the mosaic, with the final product serving as more than just a simple show piece.
Spiral galaxies such as Andromeda are home to the majority of stars understood to exist in the known universe, and so similar galaxies are an obvious focus for those looking to understand the stellar giants. Astronomers can now use the mosaic to better analyze the light of more distant spiral galaxies, using the Andromeda mosaic as a model.
Hubble's most recent masterpiece is unquestionably impressive, successfully capturing the terrifying enormity of our closest galactic neighbor, which is characterized by a dazzling sea of stars punctuated by the darker and intricately patterned dust lanes. Clusters of brighter blue points mottling the image represent younger, recently birthed stars, a stark contrast to the cooler, older red stars.
Currently, Andromeda sits roughly 2.5 million light years away from Earth with a profile in the night sky taking up the equivalent of around six times the size of a full moon. However scientists predict that the leviathan galaxy and our own Milky Way will collide in roughly four billion years, creating a much larger body.
NASA has provided a zoomable browser-based version of the image in order to allow users to fully appreciate the enormity of the image.