The night sky is full of wonders, from planets hundreds of times larger than our own to stars thousands of times larger than our Sun. As expansive as it is, our solar system is just one tine corner of the vast Universe.
Fall is one of the best times of the year to view one of the most fascinating objects that can be seen with the naked eye: the Andromeda Galaxy. Located approximately 2.5 million light-years from Earth, the Andromeda Galaxy is a spiral galaxy, like our own Milky Way, and one of our nearest neighbors in space.
The galaxy takes its name from the constellation Andromeda, which is where it can be found in the sky. Other names for the galaxy include Messier 31 (M31), after French astronomer Charles Messier, who catalogued galaxies and other deep sky objects during the late 18th Century, and NGC 224.
The Andromeda Galaxy is the furthest object, and one of the few deep sky objects, visible to the naked eye. This allowed it to be observed more than 1,000 years ago by Persian astronomer Al-Sufi. Binoculars or a low-powered telescope make it an even more stunning sight. It generally appears cloud-like, but oblong, with cones protruding from the center in either direction. It was once believed to be simply a nebula, or a massive cloud of dust and gas.
Andromeda was formed from a collision by two smaller galaxies between around 5 or 10 billion years ago. As both it and our own galaxy continue to expand, astronomers expect it to collide with the Milky Way in about 4.5 billion years. Andromeda moves about 75 miles closer to us every second.
To see Andromeda Galaxy, find the W-shaped constellation Cassiopeia. There are two dips in Cassiopeia. Locate the star at the bottom of the deeper of the two dips. Next, find Beta Andromeda, one of the stars in the “knees” of the neighboring constellation Andromeda. The galaxy is located directly between these two stars.
Jaime McLeod is a longtime journalist who has written for a wide variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites, including MTV.com. She enjoys the outdoors, growing and eating organic food, and is interested in all aspects of natural wellness.