The Andromeda Galaxy is a spiral galaxy approximately 2.5 million light years away from Earth, located in the Andromeda constellation. It is often referred to as the "Great Andromeda Nebula" in older texts. The Andromeda Galaxy is the nearest spiral galaxy to our Milky Way galaxy, but not the closest galaxy overall. The Andromeda Galaxy gets its name from from the area of the sky in which it appears, the constellation of Andromeda, which itself was named after a mythological princess named Andromeda, who was the daughter of Cepheus, an Aethiopian king.

The 2006 observations by the Spitzer Space Telescope revealed that the Andromeda Galaxy contains approximately one trillion stars, more than twice the number of the Milky Way’s estimated 200-400 billion stars. The Andromeda Galaxy, spanning approximately 220,000 light years, is the largest galaxy in our Local Group, which is also home to the Triangulum Galaxy and other minor galaxies. The Andromeda Galaxy's mass is estimated to be around 1.76 times that of the Milky Way Galaxy (~0.8-1.5 x 1012 solar masses vs the Milky Way's 8.5 x 1011 solar masses).

The Andromeda Galaxy is estimated to be 7.1 x 1011 solar masses, In comparison a 2009 study estimated that the Milky Way and M31 are about equal in mass, while a 2006 study put the mass of the Milky Way at ~80% of the mass of the Andromeda Galaxy.

The Milky Way and Andromeda are are expected to collide with each other in approximately 3.75 billion years, eventually merging to form a giant elliptical galaxy.

The Andromeda Galaxy has an apparent magnitude of 3.4, making it one of the brightest Messier objects, making it visible to the naked eye on moonless nights even when viewed from areas with moderate light pollution. Although it appears more than six times as wide as the full Moon when photographed through a larger telescope, only the brighter central region is visible to the naked eye or when viewed using binoculars or a small telescope.

The Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies are expected to collide in ~4.5 billion years, merging to form a giant elliptical galaxy or a large disc galaxy.

Observation historyEdit

Around the year 964, the Persian astronomer Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi described the Andromeda Galaxy, in his Book of Fixed Stars as a "nebulous smear". Star charts of that period labeled it as the Little Cloud. In 1612, the German astronomer Simon Marius gave an early description of the Andromeda Galaxy based on telescopic observations. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant in 1755 in his work Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens conjectured that the blurry spot was an island universe. In 1764, Charles Messier cataloged Andromeda as object M31 and incorrectly credited Marius as the discoverer despite it being visible to the naked eye. In 1785, the astronomer William Herschel noted a faint reddish hue in the core region of Andromeda. He believed Andromeda to be the nearest of all the "great nebulae", and based on the color and magnitude of the nebula, he incorrectly guessed that it is no more than 2,000 times the distance of Sirius. In 1850, William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse, saw and made the first drawing of Andromeda's spiral structure.

In 1864, William Huggins noted that the spectrum of Andromeda differs from a gaseous nebula. The spectra of Andromeda displays a continuum of frequencies, superimposed with dark absorption lines that help identify the chemical composition of an object. Andromeda's spectrum is very similar to the spectra of individual stars, and from this, it was deduced that Andromeda has a stellar nature. In 1885, a supernova (known as S Andromedae) was seen in Andromeda, the first and so far only one observed in that galaxy. At the time Andromeda was considered to be a nearby object, so the cause was thought to be a much less luminous and unrelated event called a nova, and was named accordingly; "Nova 1885".

In 1887, Isaac Roberts took the first photographs of Andromeda, which was still commonly thought to be a nebula within our galaxy. Roberts mistook Andromeda and similar spiral nebulae as solar systems being formed. In 1912, Vesto Slipher used spectroscopy to measure the radial velocity of Andromeda with respect to our solar system—the largest velocity yet measured, at 300 kilometres per second (190 mi/s).

Island universeEdit

In 1917, Heber Curtis observed a nova within Andromeda. Searching the photographic record, 11 more novae were discovered. Curtis noticed that these novae were, on average, 10 magnitudes fainter than those that occurred elsewhere in the sky. As a result, he was able to come up with a distance estimate of 500,000 light-years (3.2 x 1010 AU). He became a proponent of the so-called "island universes" hypothesis, which held that spiral nebulae were actually independent galaxies.

In 1920, the Great Debate between Harlow Shapley and Curtis took place, concerning the nature of the Milky Way, spiral nebulae, and the dimensions of the universe. To support his claim of the Great Andromeda Nebula being, in fact, an external galaxy, Curtis also noted the appearance of dark lanes within Andromeda which resembled the dust clouds in our own galaxy, as well as historical observations of Andromeda Galaxy's significant Doppler shift. In 1922 Ernst Öpik presented a method to estimate the distance of Andromeda using the measured velocities of its stars. His result placed the Andromeda Nebula far outside our galaxy at a distance of about 450,000 parsecs (1,500,000 ly). Edwin Hubble settled the debate in 1925 when he identified extragalactic Cepheid variable stars for the first time on astronomical photos of Andromeda. These were made using the 2.5-metre (100-in) Hooker telescope, and they enabled the distance of Great Andromeda Nebula to be determined. His measurement demonstrated conclusively that this feature is not a cluster of stars and gas within our own Galaxy, but an entirely separate galaxy located a significant distance from the Milky Way.

In 1943, Walter Baade was the first person to resolve stars in the central region of the Andromeda Galaxy. Baade identified two distinct populations of stars based on their metallicity, naming the young, high-velocity stars in the disk Type I and the older, red stars in the bulge Type II. This nomenclature was subsequently adopted for stars within the Milky Way, and elsewhere. (The existence of two distinct populations had been noted earlier by Jan Oort.) Baade also discovered that there were two types of Cepheid variables, which resulted in a doubling of the distance estimate to Andromeda, as well as the remainder of the Universe.

In 1950, radio emission from the Andromeda Galaxy was detected by Hanbury Brown and Cyril Hazard at Jodrell Bank Observatory. The first radio maps of the galaxy were made in the 1950s by John Baldwin and collaborators at the Cambridge Radio Astronomy Group. The core of the Andromeda Galaxy is called 2C 56 in the 2C radio astronomy catalog. In 2009, the first planet may have been discovered in the Andromeda Galaxy. This was detected using a technique called microlensing, which is caused by the deflection of light by a massive object.


The estimated distance of the Andromeda Galaxy from our own was doubled in 1953 when it was discovered that there is another, dimmer type of Cepheid. In the 1990s, measurements of both standard red giants as well as red clump stars from the Hipparcos satellite measurements were used to calibrate the Cepheid distances.

Formation and historyEdit

Andromeda Galaxy was formed roughly 10 billion years ago from the collision and subsequent merger of smaller protogalaxies. This violent collision formed most of the galaxy's (metal-rich) galactic halo and extended disk. During this epoch, star formation would have been very high, to the point of becoming a luminous infrared galaxy for roughly 100 million years. Andromeda and the Triangulum Galaxy had a very close passage 2-4 billion years ago. This event produced high levels of star formation across the Andromeda Galaxy's disk – even some globular clusters – and disturbed M33's outer disk.