NASA has just released the largest and sharpest photograph ever of (part of) the Andromeda Galaxy. A neighbour of the Milky Way Galaxy, Andromeda contains over 1 trillion stars - that's a thousand billion suns - each of which, on average, probably hosts multiple planets. The mind boggles...
The new photo, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, has a resolution of 1.5 gigapixels. Just how big is that? Well, to display the entire photo at full resolution, you'd need to stack together six hundred Full HD television screens! And the photo is of only a portion of the entire spiral galaxy, but manages to resolve over 100 million individual stars. When you zoom all the way in, you'd be forgiven for thinking the stars were mere grains of sand on a beach, or even just noise in the digital image.
It's rather difficult to appreciate the scale of the gargantuan image by itself, but the linked video contains a 3-minute long, mind-blowing fly-through. Or if you'd prefer a more interactive experience, check out this zoomable photo browser.
Incredibly humbling, right?
Images such as these often give a feeling of smallness. Within the vast cosmos we are merely dust upon dust. But to me it demonstrates just how rare and wondrous each of us are. We can look on an image such as this, see the spirals of stars, and we can understand the cosmos.