Believe it or not, we are on a cosmic collision course with one of our biggest galactic neighbours, the Andromeda Galaxy. Both the Milky Way and Andromeda are giant spiral galaxies that are on course for a head-on collision due to the mutual pull of gravity between the two galaxies. Luckily for us, it won’t occur for another four billion years!
November is the best time to spot the distant Andromeda Galaxy. Andromeda is 2.5 million light years away and is commonly referred to as the most distant object visible to the human eye. It’s always thought to have been larger than our Milky Way Galaxy however research by the University of Western Australia node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, estimates that Andromeda is more likely to be similar in size as the Milky Way or perhaps slightly smaller.
More recent research using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has discovered a massive gaseous shroud, called a Halo, surrounding Andromeda that extends 1.3 million light years from the galaxy. Scientists believe the halo is bumping into the halo of our own Milky Way.
When to look: Try From 10 pm, between 5-18 November. Look north. The Moon will be waning and you’ll have a dark sky to help you see faint Andromeda.
Note: You’ll need a star chart or a mobile phone app to help you find Andromeda. Make sure you have a clear view to the northern horizon. First search for and locate the star called Mirach which appears low on the northern horizon. Use this star and the pattern of fainter stars that are below and to the left of Mirach to try and locate Andromeda with the naked eye.
Remember: To see this deep space object with the unaided eye, practice using averted vision to tease out the faint light. If you focus on a nearby star, it should make it easier to spot Andromeda out of the corner of your eye.
For more stargazing tips, visit www.astrotourismwa.com.au