The most distant object easily visible to the unaided eye is
some two million light-years away.
But without a telescope, even this immense spiral galaxy - spanning over
200,000 light years - appears as a
faint, nebulous cloud in the
In contrast, a bright yellow nucleus, dark winding dust lanes,
gorgeous blue spiral arms and star clusters are recorded in this
digital mosaic with a cumulative exposure of over 90 hours.
While even casual
are now inspired by the knowledge that there are
many distant galaxies like M31, astronomers
this fundamental concept only 80 years ago.
Were these "spiral nebulae" simply outlying components of our own
Milky Way Galaxy or were they instead "island universes" -- distant
systems of stars comparable to the Milky Way itself?
This question was central to the famous
of 1920, which was later resolved by
observations of M31
in favor of Andromeda,