Read the third post from our Space Curator Doug Millard as he talks about the mind-boggling Andromeda galaxy – one of the destinations on our Space trail.
A few years ago we moved house from the light-polluted night skies of London to the darker zones of leafy Bromley. At the time comet Hale Bopp was resplendent (actually, we could see it in Wandsworth as well!) and as is often the way, a dormant interest in amateur astronomy resurfaced.
I started scanning the heavens with binoculars and telescope. I think Jupiter was up and I remember how amazed I was realising that the little points of light nearby were his large Moons: Io, Ganymede, Callisto and Europa. You could even see them move over a period of an hour or two!
But then my attention was drawn to a little puff of light in the north-eastern sky, no more than a smudge. I needed to search for this with the binoculars but if we had moved to the Atacama Desert instead of Bromley then the naked eye would have done the trick. It was the Andromeda galaxy. Absolutely amazing. Mind boggling.
There, in the little whiff of white sat an entire galaxy of stars – about ONE Trillion of them. How many planets?! How much life? What sort of life? It gets better. The weak light that reaches our retinas from Andromeda is very, very old; 25,000 years old. We are seeing Andromeda as it was when we were frozen up in the last ice age, it has taken that long for the light to travel to Earth. So, in other words, Andromeda is a very long way away indeed: fifteen million, million, million miles – give or take a few. You know, there are some things that put life into a whole new perspective.
Don’t forget you can still come on our space trail, you just need to collect a passport and follow the clues. In the mean time why not create your own postcard from space and send it to your friends and enter our competition to win a trip to Cité des Sciences in Paris.