Our closest giant galaxy, the Andromeda nebula, looks like a celestial plughole in a dramatic new picture from a Nasa space telescope.
Spitzer’s infrared camera captures one trillion stars embedded in a spiral of dust in the photo of the cosmic city.
The orbiting observatory shows the myriad of stars as a blue glow against the red swirls that represent the galaxy’s dust.
Astronomer Dr Pauline Barmby of Cambridge, Massachusetts, said: “This is the first time the stellar population of Andromeda has been determined using the galaxy’s infrared brightness.”
The galaxy, which dwarfs our own Milky Way of 200 bilion stars, is our next-door neighbour – but it still lies 2.5 million light-years away. It is so vast that a beam of light takes 260,000 years to travel from one end of the galaxy to the other.
The galaxy, which lies in the constellation of Andromeda, can be seen without a telescope as a fuzzy patch on a clear dark night from the UK.
It covers an area of the sky as big as seven full moons and 3,000 individual snaps from Spitzer had to be stitched together to create this one picture.