Hubble telescope captures huge, stunning image of Andromeda Galaxy

Panorama sets new level of precision for spiral galaxy studies.
By Laurel Kornfeld | Jan 20, 2015
Just in time for its 25th anniversary, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has taken a gigantic high resolution panorama image of the Andromeda Galaxy, the large spiral that is the Milky Way's closest neighbor.

First released at the 225th meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in early January, the image is comprised of 1.5 billion pixels. It depicts Andromeda in enormous detail, covering a region of 48,000 light years.

NASA describes the panorama, which shows more than 100 million individual stars, as the most exquisite composite image ever taken of the giant galaxy. The stunning image takes over four GB of computer disk space and is composed of 411 separate Hubble pictures.

Pictures of Andromeda were taken by the Panchromatic Andromeda Treasury program, or PHAT, in visible light and in wavelengths of near-infrared and near-ultraviolet.

Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys used the Wide Field Camera 3 to take the individual exposures using blue and red filters.

Although Andromeda is more than two million light years from us, Hubble cameras resolved individual stars in a region 61,000 light years across. According to NASA scientists, this degree of resolution is comparable to isolating individual sand grains in a photo of a beach.

"Never before have astronomers been able to see individual stars inside an external spiral galaxy over such a large contiguous area," a NASA statement noted.

The unprecedented image sets a new standard that is unprecedented for studying individual stars in spiral galaxies, the statement said.

Starting with a focus on Andromeda's innermost region, the picture moves outward to the galaxy's less populated, dusty outer disk. It pans over rows of stars, showing regions of active star formation populated by young blue stars as well as star clusters, and darker, complex dust clouds. Further out, viewers see groups of older, cooler red stars, which provide clues to ways the galaxy changed over its long lifetime.

According to the European Space Agency (ESA), the picture is the largest Hubble photo ever taken. Displaying it would require over 600 high-definition television screens.

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