کهکشان آندرومِدا (به انگلیسی: Andromeda Galaxy)، امرأه المسلسله یا کهکشان زنِ برزنجیر یک کهکشان مارپیچی واقع در صورت فلکیِ آندرومدا است که حدود ۲٫۵ میلیون سال نوری از کهکشان راه شیری فاصله دارد. بااینکه آندرومدا نزدیکترین کهکشان مارپیچی به کهکشان راه شیری است، ولی نزدیکترین کهکشان نیست. آندرومدا بزرگترین کهکشان از گروه کهکشانیِ محلی است که شامل راه شیری، آندرومدا، سهتکه و ۳۰ کهکشان کوچکتر است.
گفته میشود که «آندرومدا» احتمالاً بزرگترین کهکشان در گروه محلی خود است.
این کهکشان در فهرست مسیه M۳۱ نام دارد و در کاتالوگ عمومی جدید NGC۲۲۴؛ نام انگلیسی آن Andromeda (از یونانی Ανδρομέδη — آندرومده — و نام یک شاهزاده در اسطورههای یونان باستان) است و در زبان عربی به آن إمرَأةالمسلسة (زنِ برزنجیر) میگویند.
نخستین رصد ثبتشده از کهکشان آندرومدا، در سال ۹۶۴ میلادی توسط منجم ایرانی، عبدالرحمان صوفی انجام گرفت که از آن به عنوان «ابر کوچک» نام برد. اولین توصیف از جرم بر پایه رصد تلسکوپی، توسط منجم آلمانی به نام سیمون ماریوس در سال ۱۶۱۲ صورت گرفت. شارل مسیه در سال ۱۷۶۴ این جرم را در فهرست خود تحت نام M۳۱ دستهبندی کرد و بهطور غلط کاشف آن را ماریوس نامید در صورتی که عبدالرحمان صوفی پیش از او به وجود این کهکشان پی برد. در سال ۱۷۸۵ منجمی به نام ویلیام هرشل یک منطقه قرمز رنگ کم فروغی را در هسته M۳۱ ثبت کرد. او این جرم را سحابی بزرگ نامید و بر پایه رنگ و قدر سحابی به اشتباه حدس زد که فاصله آن از ما بیشتر از ۲ هزار برابر فاصله ستاره شباهنگ از ما نیست.
ویلیام هرشل در سال ۱۸۶۴، طیف M۳۱ را مشاهده کرد و متوجه شد که طیف آن با طیف یک سحابی گازی فرق دارد. M۳۱ دارای طیفی پیوسته به همراه خطوط جذبی تاریک بود با استفاده از این خطوط جذبی میتوان به ترکیبات شیمیایی یک جرم پی برد. طیف سحابی آندرومدا بسیار شبیه به طیف اختصاصی ستارگان بود و به این ترتیب او نتیجه گرفت که M۳۱ یک طبیعت شبه ستارهای دارد. در سال ۱۸۸۵، یک ابرنواختر (با نام S آندرومدا) در M۳۱ دیده شد.
اولین عکسها از M۳۱ در سال ۱۸۸۷ توسط «آیزاک روبرت» در رصدخانه خصوصیاش در ساسکس انگلستان گرفته شد. نوردهی طولانی مدت سبب شد که برای اولین بار ساختمان مارپیچی کهکشان دیده شود. در آن زمان همچنان اعتقاد داشتند که این جرم یک سحابی در کهکشان ماست. در سال ۱۹۱۲، سرعت شعاعی این جرم نسبت به منظومه شمسی ما توسط «وستو اسلیفر» در رصدخانه لاول با استفاده از طیفنما اندازهگیری شد. نتیجه بهدست آمده بزرگترین سرعت ثبت شده در آن زمان بود. آنها متوجه شدند که این جرم با سرعت ۳۰۰ کیلومتر بر ثانیه به سمت خورشید حرکت میکند.
در شبی که ماه در آسمان وجود ندارد شما میتوانید این کهکشان را به صورت یک لکه مات با چشم غیرمسلح ببینید. در حقیقت آندرومدا دورترین جرم قابل رویت بدون استفاده از ابزار اپتیکی است. حتی شما میتوانید این جرم را از درون شهر با دوربین دوچشمی رصد کنید. آندرومدا بزرگترین کهکشان گروه محلی است؛ کهکشانهای گروه محلی عبارتند از: کهکشان آندرومدا، کهکشان راه شیری، کهکشان مثلث و در حدود ۳۰ کهکشان کوچک دیگر.
با این که آندرومدا بزرگترین کهکشان این گروه است اما لزوماً پرجرمترین آنها نیست، یافتههای اخیر نشان میدهند که کهکشان راه شیری شامل ماده تاریک بیشتری است و ممکن است پرجرمترین کهکشان در گروه محلی باشد.
با توجه به رصدهایی که توسط تلسکوپ فضایی اسپیتزر در سال ۲۰۰۶ صورت گرفت، مشخص شد که M۳۱ شامل یک تریلیون ستاره است. در صورتیکه کهکشان ما ۲۰۰ تا ۴۰۰ میلیارد ستاره دارد. با این حال برآوردهای سال ۲۰۰۶ نشان داد که جرم کهکشان راه شیری تقریباً ۸۰ درصد جرم آندرومدا است یعنی ۷/۱× ۱۰۱۱ برابر جرم خورشید. براساس مطالعهای که در سال ۲۰۰۹ صورت گرفت میتوان نتیجه گرفت که جرم کهکشان ما و آندرومدا تقریباً با هم برابر است.
کهکشان آندرومدا با قدر ظاهری ۴/۳ یکی از درخشندهترین اجرام مِسیِه است. به همین دلیل این جرم را میتوان حتی در مناطقی که دارای آلودگی نوری هستند با چشم غیرمسلح مشاهده کرد. اگرچه با عکاسی توسط یک تلسکوپ بزرگتر پهنای این کهکشان بیش از ۶ برابر ماه بدر دیده میشود، اما تنها بخش مرکزی درخشانتر آن با چشم غیرمسلح یا یک تلسکوپ یا دوربین دوچشمی کوچک قابل رویت است.
در سال ۱۹۱۷ منجم آمریکایی به نام هبر کورتیس یک نواختر درون M۳۱ کشف کرد. با جستجو به روش ثبت عکاسی، ۱۱ نواختر دیگری کشف شد. کورتیس متوجه شد که این نواخترها بهطور متوسط ۱۰ قدر کم نورتر از نواخترهای درون کهکشان ماست. به عنوان یک نتیجه، او فاصله M۳۱ را از ما ۵۰۰ هزار سال نوری (۳/۲×۱۰۱۰ AU) تخمین زد. او با فرضیه «جهان جزیره» موافق بود و معتقد بود که M۳۱ یک کهکشان مستقل است.
در سال ۱۹۲۲، «ارنست اوپیک» با استفاده از یک روش اخترفیزیکی، فاصله M۳۱ را تخمین زد. او پی برد که M۳۱ در خارج از کهکشان ما و در فاصلهای در حدود ۴۵۰ کیلو پارسک معادل ۱۵۰۰ کیلو سال نوری قرار دارد. در سال ۱۹۲۵، «ادوین هابل» برای اولین بار در عکسهایی که از M۳۱ گرفته شده بود، ستارههای متغیر قیفاووسی را در خارج از کهکشان خودمان مشاهده کرد. این عکسها با استفاده از تلسکوپ ۵/۲ متری «هوکر» گرفته شده بودند. به این ترتیب با استفاده از متغیرهای قیفاووسی او توانست فاصله آندرومدا از ما را تعیین کند. اندازهگیری او نشان داد که بهطور قطع M۳۱ یک خوشه ستارهای در کهکشان ما نیست. بلکه این جرم یک کهکشان مجزا در فاصلهای مشخص از کهکشان ماست.
آندرومدا نقشی مهم در مطالعات کهکشانی ما دارد زیرا نزدیکترین کهکشان مارپیچی (البته نزدیکترین کهکشان نیست) به ماست.
گسیل امواج رادیویی از کهکشان آندرومدا اولین بار توسط «گروت روبر» در سال ۱۹۴۰ آشکار شد. اولین نقشههای رادیویی از آندرومدا در سال ۱۹۵۰ میلادی توسط «جان بالدوین» و همکارانش در انجمن نجوم رادیویی کمبریج ساخته شد.
برآورد جرم و درخشندگی[ویرایش]
جرمی که برای هالهٔ آندرومدا (شامل مادهٔ تاریک) حدس زده میشود، مقداری تقریباً معادل با × ۱۰۱۲۲۳/۱ برابر جرم خورشید (یا ۲/۱ میلیون میلیون برابر جرم خورشید) است درصورتیکه جرم کهکشان راه شیری × ۱۰۱۲۹/۱ برابر جرم خورشید است؛ بنابراین احتمالاً M۳۱ کم جرمتر از کهکشان ماست البته محدوده خطا بسیار بزرگ است بنابراین نمیتوان در این مورد نظر قطعی داد. درخشندگی M۳۱، تقریباً × ۱۰۱۰۶/۲ برابر درخشندگی خورشید، یعنی ۲۵ درصد درخشندهتر از کهکشان ماست.
برخورد کهکشان راه شیری و آندرومدا در آینده[ویرایش]
کهکشان آندرومدا با سرعتی در حدود ۱۰۰ تا ۱۴۰ کیلومتر در ثانیه در حال نزدیک شدن به کهکشان ماست؛ بنابراین آندرومدا یکی از معدود کهکشانهای انتقال به آبی است. انتظار میرود که این دو کهکشان در ۵/۴ میلیارد سال آینده با یکدیگر برخورد کنند. البته جزئیات این برخورد نامشخص است. شاید این دو کهکشان پس از برخورد با یکدیگر ادغام شده و یک کهکشان غولپیکر بیضوی را شکل دهند. اینگونه اتفاقات در گروههای کهکشانی تکرار میشوند. در حال حاضر سرنوشت زمین و منظومه شمسی پس از این برخورد مشخص نیست. اگر کهکشانها در هم ادغام نشوند شاید منظومه شمسی از راه شیری جدا شده یا به آندرومدا بپیوندد.
The Andromeda Galaxy (IPA: //), also known as Messier 31, M31, or NGC 224 and originally the Andromeda Nebula (see below), is a spiral galaxy approximately 780 kiloparsecs (2.5 million light-years) from Earth, and the nearest major galaxy to the Milky Way. The galaxy's name stems from the area of the Earth's sky in which it appears, the constellation of Andromeda.
The virial mass of the Andromeda Galaxy is of the same order of magnitude as that of the Milky Way, at a trillion solar masses (1012M☉). The mass of either galaxy is difficult to estimate with any accuracy, but it was long thought that the Andromeda Galaxy is more massive than the Milky Way by a margin of some 25% to 50%. This has been called into question by a 2018 study which cited a lower estimate on the mass of the Andromeda Galaxy, combined with preliminary reports on a 2019 study estimating a higher mass of the Milky Way. The Andromeda Galaxy has a diameter of about 220,000 light-years, making it the largest member of the Local Group at least in terms of extension, if not mass.
The number of stars contained in the Andromeda Galaxy is estimated at one trillion (1×1012), or roughly twice the number estimated for the Milky Way.
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 lenticular galaxy. With an apparent magnitude of 3.4, the Andromeda Galaxy is among the brightest of the Messier objects making it visible to the naked eye from Earth on moonless nights, even when viewed from areas with moderate light pollution.
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. Pierre Louis Maupertuis conjectured in 1745 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 was no more than 2,000 times the distance of Sirius, or roughly 18,000 light years. In 1850, William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse made the first drawing of Andromeda's spiral structure.
In 1864, William Huggins noted that the spectrum of Andromeda differed from that of 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 miles per second).
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 (3.2×1010 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 light-years). 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 (8 ft 2 in) Hooker telescope, and they enabled the distance of Great Andromeda Nebula to be determined. His measurement demonstrated conclusively that this feature was 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 history
This violent collision formed most of the galaxy's (metal-rich) galactic halo and extended disk. During this epoch, its rate of 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 rates of star formation across the Andromeda Galaxy's disk—even some globular clusters—and disturbed M33's outer disk.
Over the past 2 billion years, star formation throughout Andromeda's disk is thought to have decreased to the point of near-inactivity. There have been interactions with satellite galaxies like M32, M110, or others that have already been absorbed by Andromeda Galaxy. These interactions have formed structures like Andromeda's Giant Stellar Stream. A galactic merger roughly 100 million years ago is believed to be responsible for a counter-rotating disk of gas found in the center of Andromeda as well as the presence there of a relatively young (100 million years old) stellar population.
At least four distinct techniques have been used to estimate distances from Earth to the Andromeda Galaxy. In 2003, using the infrared surface brightness fluctuations (I-SBF) and adjusting for the new period-luminosity value and a metallicity correction of −0.2 mag dex−1 in (O/H), an estimate of 2.57 ± 0.06 million light-years (1.625×1011 ± 3.8×109 astronomical units) was derived. A 2004 Cepheid variable method estimated the distance to be 2.51 ± 0.13 million light-years (770 ± 40 kpc). In 2005, an eclipsing binary star was discovered in the Andromeda Galaxy. The binary[c] is two hot blue stars of types O and B. By studying the eclipses of the stars, astronomers were able to measure their sizes. Knowing the sizes and temperatures of the stars, they were able to measure their absolute magnitude. When the visual and absolute magnitudes are known, the distance to the star can be calculated. The stars lie at a distance of 2.52×106 ± 0.14×106 ly (1.594×1011 ± 8.9×109 AU) and the whole Andromeda Galaxy at about 2.5×106 ly (1.6×1011 AU). This new value is in excellent agreement with the previous, independent Cepheid-based distance value. The TRGB method was also used in 2005 giving a distance of 2.56×106 ± 0.08×106 ly (1.619×1011 ± 5.1×109 AU). Averaged together, these distance estimates give a value of 2.54×106 ± 0.11×106 ly (1.606×1011 ± 7.0×109 AU).[a] And, from this, the diameter of Andromeda at the widest point is estimated to be 220 ± 3 kly (67,450 ± 920 pc).[original research?] Applying trigonometry (angular diameter), this is equivalent to an apparent 4.96° angle in the sky.
Until 2018, mass estimates for the Andromeda Galaxy's halo (including dark matter) gave a value of approximately 1.5×1012 M☉ (or 1.5 trillion solar masses) compared to 8×1011 M☉ for the Milky Way. This contradicted earlier measurements, that seemed to indicate that Andromeda Galaxy and the Milky Way are almost equal in mass. In 2018, the equality of mass was re-established by radio results as approximately 8×1011 M☉    In 2006, Andromeda Galaxy's spheroid was determined to have a higher stellar density than that of the Milky Way and its galactic stellar disk was estimated at about twice the diameter of that of the Milky Way. The total stellar mass of Andromeda Galaxy is estimated to be between 8×1011 M☉ and 1.1×1012 M☉., (i.e., around twice as massive as that of the Milky Way) and 1.5×1012 M☉, with around 30% of that mass in the central bulge, 56% in the disk, and the remaining 14% in the halo. The radio results (similar mass to Milky Way galaxy) should be taken as likeliest as of 2018, although clearly this matter is still under active investigation by a number of research groups worldwide.
In addition to stars, Andromeda Galaxy's interstellar medium contains at least around 7.2×109 M☉ in the form of neutral hydrogen, at least 3.4×108 M☉ as molecular hydrogen (within its innermost 10 kiloparsecs), and 5.4×107 M☉ of dust.
Andromeda Galaxy is surrounded by a massive halo of hot gas that is estimated to contain half the mass of the stars in the galaxy. The nearly invisible halo stretches about a million light-years from its host galaxy, halfway to our Milky Way galaxy. Simulations of galaxies indicate the halo formed at the same time as the Andromeda Galaxy. The halo is enriched in elements heavier than hydrogen and helium, formed from supernovae and its properties are those expected for a galaxy that lies in the "green valley" of the Galaxy color–magnitude diagram (see below). Supernovae erupt in Andromeda Galaxy's star-filled disk and eject these heavier elements into space. Over Andromeda Galaxy's lifetime, nearly half of the heavy elements made by its stars have been ejected far beyond the galaxy's 200,000-light-year-diameter stellar disk.
Compared to the Milky Way, the Andromeda Galaxy appears to have predominantly older stars with ages >7×109 years.[clarification needed] The estimated luminosity of Andromeda Galaxy, ~2.6×1010 L☉, is about 25% higher than that of our own galaxy. However, the galaxy has a high inclination as seen from Earth and its interstellar dust absorbs an unknown amount of light, so it is difficult to estimate its actual brightness and other authors have given other values for the luminosity of the Andromeda Galaxy (some authors even propose it is the second-brightest galaxy within a radius of 10 mega-parsecs of the Milky Way, after the Sombrero Galaxy, with an absolute magnitude of around -22.21[d] or close).
An estimation done with the help of Spitzer Space Telescope published in 2010 suggests an absolute magnitude (in the blue) of −20.89 (that with a color index of +0.63 translates to an absolute visual magnitude of −21.52,[b] compared to −20.9 for the Milky Way), and a total luminosity in that wavelength of 3.64×1010 L☉.
The rate of star formation in the Milky Way is much higher, with Andromeda Galaxy producing only about one solar mass per year compared to 3–5 solar masses for the Milky Way. The rate of novae in the Milky Way is also double that of Andromeda Galaxy. This suggests that the latter once experienced a great star formation phase, but is now in a relative state of quiescence, whereas the Milky Way is experiencing more active star formation. Should this continue, the luminosity of the Milky Way may eventually overtake that of Andromeda Galaxy.
According to recent studies, the Andromeda Galaxy lies in what in the galaxy color–magnitude diagram is known as the "green valley", a region populated by galaxies like the Milky Way in transition from the "blue cloud" (galaxies actively forming new stars) to the "red sequence" (galaxies that lack star formation). Star formation activity in green valley galaxies is slowing as they run out of star-forming gas in the interstellar medium. In simulated galaxies with similar properties to Andromeda Galaxy, star formation is expected to extinguish within about five billion years from the now, even accounting for the expected, short-term increase in the rate of star formation due to the collision between Andromeda Galaxy and the Milky Way.
Based on its appearance in visible light, the Andromeda Galaxy is classified as an SA(s)b galaxy in the de Vaucouleurs–Sandage extended classification system of spiral galaxies. However, data from the 2MASS survey showed that Andromeda is actually a barred spiral galaxy, like the Milky Way, with Andromeda's bar oriented along its long axis.
In 2005, astronomers used the Keck telescopes to show that the tenuous sprinkle of stars extending outward from the galaxy is actually part of the main disk itself. This means that the spiral disk of stars in the Andromeda Galaxy is three times larger in diameter than previously estimated. This constitutes evidence that there is a vast, extended stellar disk that makes the galaxy more than 220,000 light-years (67,000 parsecs) in diameter. Previously, estimates of the Andromeda Galaxy's size ranged from 70,000 to 120,000 light-years (21,000 to 37,000 pc) across.
The galaxy is inclined an estimated 77° relative to Earth (where an angle of 90° would be viewed directly from the side). Analysis of the cross-sectional shape of the galaxy appears to demonstrate a pronounced, S-shaped warp, rather than just a flat disk. A possible cause of such a warp could be gravitational interaction with the satellite galaxies near the Andromeda Galaxy. The Galaxy M33 could be responsible for some warp in Andromeda's arms, though more precise distances and radial velocities are required.
Spectroscopic studies have provided detailed measurements of the rotational velocity of the Andromeda Galaxy as a function of radial distance from the core. The rotational velocity has a maximum value of 225 kilometres per second (140 mi/s) at 1,300 light-years (82,000,000 astronomical units) from the core, and it has its minimum possibly as low as 50 kilometres per second (31 mi/s) at 7,000 light-years (440,000,000 AU) from the core. Further out, rotational velocity rises out to a radius of 33,000 light-years (2.1×109 AU), where it reaches a peak of 250 kilometres per second (160 mi/s). The velocities slowly decline beyond that distance, dropping to around 200 kilometres per second (120 mi/s) at 80,000 light-years (5.1×109 AU). These velocity measurements imply a concentrated mass of about 6×109 M☉ in the nucleus. The total mass of the galaxy increases linearly out to 45,000 light-years (2.8×109 AU), then more slowly beyond that radius.
The spiral arms of the Andromeda Galaxy are outlined by a series of HII regions, first studied in great detail by Walter Baade and described by him as resembling "beads on a string". His studies show two spiral arms that appear to be tightly wound, although they are more widely spaced than in our galaxy. His descriptions of the spiral structure, as each arm crosses the major axis of the Andromeda Galaxy, are as follows§pp1062§pp92:
Since the Andromeda Galaxy is seen close to edge-on, it is difficult to study its spiral structure. Rectified images of the galaxy seem to show a fairly normal spiral galaxy, exhibiting two continuous trailing arms that are separated from each other by a minimum of about 13,000 light-years (820,000,000 astronomical units) and that can be followed outward from a distance of roughly 1,600 light-years (100,000,000 AU) from the core. Alternative spiral structures have been proposed such as a single spiral arm or a flocculent pattern of long, filamentary, and thick spiral arms.
The most likely cause of the distortions of the spiral pattern is thought to be interaction with galaxy satellites M32 and M110. This can be seen by the displacement of the neutral hydrogen clouds from the stars.
In 1998, images from the European Space Agency's Infrared Space Observatory demonstrated that the overall form of the Andromeda Galaxy may be transitioning into a ring galaxy. The gas and dust within the galaxy is generally formed into several overlapping rings, with a particularly prominent ring formed at a radius of 32,000 light-years (2.0×109 AU) (10 kiloparsecs) from the core, nicknamed by some astronomers the ring of fire. This ring is hidden from visible light images of the galaxy because it is composed primarily of cold dust, and most of the star formation that is taking place in the Andromeda Galaxy is concentrated there.
Later studies with the help of the Spitzer Space Telescope showed how Andromeda Galaxy's spiral structure in the infrared appears to be composed of two spiral arms that emerge from a central bar and continue beyond the large ring mentioned above. Those arms, however, are not continuous and have a segmented structure.
Close examination of the inner region of the Andromeda Galaxy with the same telescope also showed a smaller dust ring that is believed to have been caused by the interaction with M32 more than 200 million years ago. Simulations show that the smaller galaxy passed through the disk of the Andromeda Galaxy along the latter's polar axis. This collision stripped more than half the mass from the smaller M32 and created the ring structures in Andromeda. It is the co-existence of the long-known large ring-like feature in the gas of Messier 31, together with this newly discovered inner ring-like structure, offset from the barycenter, that suggested a nearly head-on collision with the satellite M32, a milder version of the Cartwheel encounter.
Studies of the extended halo of the Andromeda Galaxy show that it is roughly comparable to that of the Milky Way, with stars in the halo being generally "metal-poor", and increasingly so with greater distance. This evidence indicates that the two galaxies have followed similar evolutionary paths. They are likely to have accreted and assimilated about 100–200 low-mass galaxies during the past 12 billion years. The stars in the extended halos of the Andromeda Galaxy and the Milky Way may extend nearly one third the distance separating the two galaxies.
M31 is known to harbor a dense and compact star cluster at its very center. In a large telescope it creates a visual impression of a star embedded in the more diffuse surrounding bulge. In 1991, the Hubble Space Telescope was used to image Andromeda Galaxy's inner nucleus. The nucleus consists of two concentrations separated by 1.5 parsecs (4.9 ly). The brighter concentration, designated as P1, is offset from the center of the galaxy. The dimmer concentration, P2, falls at the true center of the galaxy and contains a black hole measured at 3–5 × 107 M☉ in 1993, and at 1.1–2.3 × 108 M☉ in 2005. The velocity dispersion of material around it is measured to be ≈ 160 km/s.
It has been proposed that the observed double nucleus could be explained if P1 is the projection of a disk of stars in an eccentric orbit around the central black hole. The eccentricity is such that stars linger at the orbital apocenter, creating a concentration of stars. P2 also contains a compact disk of hot, spectral-class A stars. The A stars are not evident in redder filters, but in blue and ultraviolet light they dominate the nucleus, causing P2 to appear more prominent than P1.
While at the initial time of its discovery it was hypothesized that the brighter portion of the double nucleus is the remnant of a small galaxy "cannibalized" by Andromeda Galaxy, this is no longer considered a viable explanation, largely because such a nucleus would have an exceedingly short lifetime due to tidal disruption by the central black hole. While this could be partially resolved if P1 had its own black hole to stabilize it, the distribution of stars in P1 does not suggest that there is a black hole at its center.
Apparently, by late 1968, no X-rays had been detected from the Andromeda Galaxy. A balloon flight on 20 October 1970, set an upper limit for detectable hard X-rays from the Andromeda Galaxy. The Swift BAT all-sky survey successfully detected hard X-rays coming from a region centered 6 arcseconds away from the galaxy center. The emission above 25 keV was later found to be originating from a single source named 3XMM J004232.1+411314, and identified as a binary system where a compact object (a neutron star or a black hole) accretes matter from a star.
Multiple X-ray sources have since been detected in the Andromeda Galaxy, using observations from the European Space Agency's (ESA) XMM-Newton orbiting observatory. Robin Barnard et al. hypothesized that these are candidate black holes or neutron stars, which are heating the incoming gas to millions of kelvins and emitting X-rays. Neutron stars and black holes can be distinguished mainly by measuring their masses. An observation campaign of NuSTAR space mission identified 40 objects of this kind in the galaxy.
There are approximately 460 globular clusters associated with the Andromeda Galaxy. The most massive of these clusters, identified as Mayall II, nicknamed Globular One, has a greater luminosity than any other known globular cluster in the Local Group of galaxies. It contains several million stars, and is about twice as luminous as Omega Centauri, the brightest known globular cluster in the Milky Way. Globular One (or G1) has several stellar populations and a structure too massive for an ordinary globular. As a result, some consider G1 to be the remnant core of a dwarf galaxy that was consumed by Andromeda in the distant past. The globular with the greatest apparent brightness is G76 which is located in the south-west arm's eastern half. Another massive globular cluster, named 037-B327 and discovered in 2006 as is heavily reddened by the Andromeda Galaxy's interstellar dust, was thought to be more massive than G1 and the largest cluster of the Local Group; however, other studies have shown it is actually similar in properties to G1.
Unlike the globular clusters of the Milky Way, which show a relatively low age dispersion, Andromeda Galaxy's globular clusters have a much larger range of ages: from systems as old as the galaxy itself to much younger systems, with ages between a few hundred million years to five billion years.
In 2005, astronomers discovered a completely new type of star cluster in the Andromeda Galaxy. The new-found clusters contain hundreds of thousands of stars, a similar number of stars that can be found in globular clusters. What distinguishes them from the globular clusters is that they are much larger—several hundred light-years across—and hundreds of times less dense. The distances between the stars are, therefore, much greater within the newly discovered extended clusters.
In 2012, a microquasar, a radio burst emanating from a smaller black hole, was detected in the Andromeda Galaxy. The progenitor black hole is located near the galactic center and has about 10 . Discovered through a data collected by the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton probe, and subsequently observed by NASA's Swift Gamma-Ray Burst Mission and Chandra X-Ray Observatory, the Very Large Array, and the Very Long Baseline Array, the microquasar was the first observed within the Andromeda Galaxy and the first outside of the Milky Way Galaxy.
Like the Milky Way, the Andromeda Galaxy has satellite galaxies, consisting of 14 known dwarf galaxies. The best known and most readily observed satellite galaxies are M32 and M110. Based on current evidence, it appears that M32 underwent a close encounter with the Andromeda Galaxy in the past. M32 may once have been a larger galaxy that had its stellar disk removed by M31, and underwent a sharp increase of star formation in the core region, which lasted until the relatively recent past.
M110 also appears to be interacting with the Andromeda Galaxy, and astronomers have found in the halo of the latter a stream of metal-rich stars that appear to have been stripped from these satellite galaxies. M110 does contain a dusty lane, which may indicate recent or ongoing star formation. M32 have young population as well.
In 2006, it was discovered that nine of the satellite galaxies lie in a plane that intersects the core of the Andromeda Galaxy; they are not randomly arranged as would be expected from independent interactions. This may indicate a common tidal origin for the satellites.
Collision with the Milky Way
The Andromeda Galaxy is approaching the Milky Way at about 110 kilometres per second (68 miles per second). It has been measured approaching relative to the Sun at around 300 km/s (190 mi/s) as the Sun orbits around the center of the galaxy at a speed of approximately 225 km/s (140 mi/s). This makes the Andromeda Galaxy one of about 100 observable blueshifted galaxies. Andromeda Galaxy's tangential or sideways velocity with respect to the Milky Way is relatively much smaller than the approaching velocity and therefore it is expected to collide directly with the Milky Way in about 4 billion years. A likely outcome of the collision is that the galaxies will merge to form a giant elliptical galaxy or perhaps even a large disc galaxy. Such events are frequent among the galaxies in galaxy groups. The fate of the Earth and the Solar System in the event of a collision is currently unknown. Before the galaxies merge, there is a small chance that the Solar System could be ejected from the Milky Way or join the Andromeda Galaxy.
The Andromeda Galaxy is bright enough to be seen with the naked eye, even with some light pollution. Andromeda is best seen during autumn nights in the Northern Hemisphere, when from mid-latitudes the galaxy reaches zenith (its highest point at midnight) so can be seen almost all night. From the Southern Hemisphere, it is most visible at the same months, that is in spring, and away from our equator does not reach a high altitude over the northern horizon, making it difficult to observe. Binoculars can reveal some larger structures and its two brightest satellite galaxies, M32 and M110. An amateur telescope can reveal Andromeda's disk, some of its brightest globular clusters, dark dust lanes and the large star cloud NGC 206.