The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has released the largest ever image of the Andromeda galaxy, opening up 100 million stars and star clusters to public exploration. It’s also the sharpest view of Andromeda, the closest galaxy that’s a spiral like our own Milky Way, ever taken.
NASA/ESA shared the image with a zoom tool that takes you deep into the 1.5 billion pixels of the galaxy, officially known as M31. What’s viewable online, however, is a crop of the complete photograph, as they note you “would need more than 600 HD television screens to display the whole image.”
Part of the Panchromatic Hubble Andromeda Treasury (PHAT) program, the incredible image shows the disc of the galaxy across 40,000 light-years. Andromeda itself is around 2.6 million light-years away from us — although it won’t always be so distant: scientists have predicted that in four billion years the Milky Way and the Andromeda will collide and merge into one.
Space imaging so far in 2015 has been spectacular. The 1995 “Pillars of Creation,” likely the most famous Hubble photograph ever taken, showing a star-forming region, was revisited in even clearer resolution. NASA released stunning images of the first major solar flare of the year (complete with a GIF of the magnetic loops on its horizon), and now NASA’s New Horizons Space Probe is preparing to fly by and photograph Pluto. Images from the UK Space Agency last week revealed the location of the Beagle 2 on Mars, a lander that had been lost for a decade. It also happened to contain a Damien Hirst dot painting that’s survived all this time on the harsh Red Planet.
Launched in 1990, the Hubble Telescope continues to capture remarkable images of outer space, looking ever further afield since its first shot, taken on May 20 of that year, of stars in the Milky Way. Zooming in on the new digital version of the Andromeda galaxy is a reminder of this Carl Sagan affirmation: “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”
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