Space Telescope Science
The Andromeda galaxy is our Milky Way's nearest neighbor in space. The majestic spiral of over 100 billion stars is comparable in size to our home galaxy. At a distance of 2.5 million light-years, it is so close to us the galaxy can be seen as a cigar-shaped smudge of light high in the autumn sky. But if you could see the huge bubble of hot, diffuse plasma surrounding it, it would appear 100 times the angular diameter of the full Moon! The gargantuan halo is estimated to contain half the mass of the stars in the Andromeda galaxy itself. It can be thought of as the "atmosphere" of a galaxy. Astronomers using Hubble identified the gas in Andromeda's halo by measuring how it filtered the light of distant bright background objects called quasars. It is akin to seeing the glow of a flashlight shining through a fog. This finding promises to tell astronomers more about the evolution and structure of one of the most common types of galaxies in the universe.