The Hubble Space Telescope has captured an amazing 1.5 billion-pixel photo of the Andromeda Galaxy. The picture represents the sharpest and largest composite image of the Milky Way's galactic neighbor ever taken, the Space Telescope Science Institute says.
The panoramic image shows striking details of the bright galaxy, which is located about 2.5 million light-years from Earth. While that may seem far away, Hubble usually trains its view on more distant targets. Because Andromeda fills up so much of Hubble's field of view, the telescope was able to capture incredible detail in its survey of the galaxy. You can fly through the Andromeda image in a new video, or explore a zoomable version.
The photo, which shows about a third of the galaxy's disk, was unveiled this month during a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle. The image stretches across about 48,000 light-years, taking in more than 100 million of the galaxy's stars. The Hubble team says it would take more than 600 HD television screens to display the image at full resolution. [See more amazing Hubble Space Telescope photos]
The panorama was created as part of the Panchromatic Hubble Andromeda Treasury program, or PHAT. This image is a mosaic of 7,398 exposures taken over the course of 411 telescope pointings. Scientists can use this image to help them interpret other spiral galaxies that might have similar light signatures, but are farther from Earth.
Andromeda and the Milky Way are on the way toward a crash of cosmic proportions. The two galaxies will merge, forming one new galaxy billions of years from now.