01/29/2013 12:27 pm ET

Andromeda Galaxy Picture: New Herschel Space Observatory Image Shows 'Cool Lanes' Of Stars

andromeda galaxy picture

In this amazing new view of the Andromeda galaxy, taken by the the Herschel Space Observatory, "cool lanes of forming stars," where many new heavenly bodies will one day burst into existence, are displayed in dazzling detail.

NASA released the image on Jan. 28.

The Herschel Space Observatory is a project of the European Space Agency, in close partnership with NASA. Its sophisticated instruments include the largest single mirror ever built for a space telescope. It can "collect long-wavelength radiation from some of the coldest and most distant objects in the universe," according to the European Space Agency.

"Sensitive to the far-infrared light from cool dust mixed in with the gas, Herschel seeks out clouds of gas where stars are born," according to NASA. "The new image reveals some of the very coldest dust in the galaxy -- only a few tens of degrees above absolute zero -- colored red in this image."

The blue bulge at the center of the galaxy is home to hotter, older stars.

Andromeda is estimated to have up to one trillion stars, whereas the Milky Way contains hundreds of billions. Also known as M31, it is the closest galaxy to the Milky Way, at about 2.5 million light-years away. This makes it an ideal "natural laboratory" to observe star formation.

But sooner or later, the Milky Way will likely get a much closer look. Last year, the Associated Press reported that the two galaxies will collide in a "direct head-on hit" in about 4 billion years.

According to Roeland van der Marel, an astronomer with the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, which helps operate the Hubble Space Telescope, the only way Andromeda could miss colliding with the Milky Way is if it were moving sideways about six times faster than Hubble indicates it is.

Take a look at the new image of Andromeda (above). Click here for a larger view of the image.


Hubble Space Telescope Images