On a clear night with a dark, cloudless sky we can cast our gaze heavenward and see straight into infinity. The countless stars sparkle and twinkle, and are interspersed here and there with the occasional nebula and galaxy. One of those galaxies—the nearest celestial neighbor to our own Milky Way—is Messier 31, or M31 for short. But most of us earthlings know it by its common name M31 Andromeda, or more simply, Andromeda.
Andromeda is a mere 2.5 million light years away, which within the realms of outer space is about as close as you can get. It is also the furthest galaxy that you can see with your unaided eye. Like our own Milky Way, it is a gorgeous spiral, and from our vantage point, it sets at a slightly jaunty angle from us. The view works out perfectly since the placement lets us see the spirals and whorls in addition to the stars.
In time Andromeda and the Milky Way will meet in space, for they are drifting toward each other on a collision course. What happens during the collision is anyone’s guess, but it is likely to be spectacular. Since we’ll be part of that event, we’ll have a ringside seat. But, that won’t happen for a while, so there is nothing to worry about. At least not yet.
In the meantime, enjoy the view of M31 Andromeda, and the stars within our neighborhood. Perhaps when we reach for the stars, we’ll drop in on M31 Andromeda and visit. it has long been a goal of mankind to reach for the stars and what better goal than to visit our neighbor? Every journey starts with a small step, and this is a fantastic step to take.