It was a startling day in science when researchers first came to the conclusion that not only are we located in a galaxy, but there are other galaxies out there. Just thinking about this fact is both exhilarating and a little bit frightening. Our nearest neighboring galaxy, Andromeda, is practically a stone’s throw away at 2.537 million light years. Like our own Milky Way, Andromeda is a spiral galaxy. If you want to take a look at our neighbor (and wave hi to any lifeforms that might be there), here’s how to spot Andromeda:
1. Andromeda is visible with nothing more than the human eye.
“Naked eye astronomy” is the best because it requires nothing more than a dark sky and some free time. To see Andromeda, you don’t have to have any specialized equipment. It may be millions of light years away, but you can still see it with the unaided eye. In fact, it’s the most distant object our eyes can see.
2. If your eyesight isn’t the best, use binoculars or a telescope.
Of course, some of us have been wearing glasses since birth, as nature didn’t grant us perfect eyesight. For those who don’t have the best eyesight, Andromeda is even better to look at through binoculars or a telescope. It can be a little harder to focus in and find it, but using a computerized telescope or even an app on your phone can help.
3. Use constellations and stars as your guides.
Once you’ve chosen your tool (eyes, binoculars, or a telescope), it’s time to figure out where Andromeda actually is. The exact location changes based on where you live and the time of year, but if you know a little bit about the layout of the night sky, you should be able to find it. Using the “W” shaped constellation Cassiopia, move away the height of three “Ws” and you’ll be in the area where Andromeda is. The star located at the second bottom point of the W will roughly point towards Andromeda, so move in whichever direction it’s oriented. When you spot a fuzzy area that’s slightly elongated, you’ve found Andromeda.