For about half of the year we are able to see our largest neighbor and the nearest large spiral galaxy to our own Milky Way. Andromeda, as it is known, is about 2.5 million light years away and is once again becoming visible in the night sky over North America.
According to Earthsky.com, Andromeda can be seen with the naked eye if you are in a dark area. (I have seen it from the northwest side of Tucson with the naked eye on a moonless night). However, it can be seen much more easily with a pair of binoculars, especially once you know how to spot it. Here are a couple of ways to find it.
- Find Cassiopeia in the evening sky. It should look like a large, sideways "W" in the sky, as can be seen in the illustration below.
Cassiopeia will point towards the Andromeda galaxy.
Another way to find Andromeda is to look for the Great Square of Pegasus. This will be the largest object in the sky that looks like a large baseball diamond. In fact, it is large enough that your hand should fit inside the square when held out at arm's length. Here is what is should look like in the night sky.
Using the baseball diamond analogy, find the star on the far left side of the square in the "third base" position. From there, follow the "legs" of the Great Square down two stars to Mu Andromedae and Mirach, as illustrated above. Mu Andromedae will be right in between the star Mirach and the Andromeda Galaxy. The galaxy will appear as a fuzzy light in the sky, which is actually composed of hundreds of billions of stars. Individual stars within the Andromeda galaxy will not be distinguishable due to the extreme distance.
Again, a pair of binoculars will make it much easier to find Andromeda in the night sky. If you are still having trouble spotting it, I'd recommend trying a free app such as Google sky to help find it.