Is Andromeda Drifting Towards Us?

by Fraser Cain on April 3, 2014

In a Universe that’s expanding apart, isn’t it strange that Andromeda is actually drifting towards us? Dr. Thad Szabo from Cerritos College explains why this is happening.

“I’m Thad Szabo, and I teach astronomy and physics at Cerritos College.”

Is Andromeda drifting towards us?

“The reason that we see Andromeda moving toward us is because it’s nearby enough, and the Milky Way is massive enough and Andromeda is massive enough that they’re gravity is strong enough that there is not enough space between them that the space was able to expand and push them apart against the force of gravity. So if you take the Milky Way, all of its stars and all of its gas and dust, all of its dark matter, you’re looking at something that’s a trillion times the mass of the sun. You have the same for Andromeda, and they’re less than a mega parsec apart – to Andromeda, its about 2.2 billion light years. And so with that distance and that much mass, that’s close enough that gravity is drawing them together. Most galaxies, because they’re so distant, you do see them moving away due to the expansion of the universe.”

“But actually M81, which is about 12 million light years away, is also moving towards the Milky Way. It’s the most distant galaxy that doesn’t show red shift. So there’s enough gravity in this local group – I guess the local group is typically the Milky Way galaxy, the Andromeda galaxy, the Triangulum galaxy, and however many tens of dwarf galaxies that we’ve either discovered or haven’t discovered yet. But there’s also a bubble of about ten to twenty major size galaxies extending out to about fifteen million light years or so, and that’s kind of right on the border between where the expansion of the universe would drive things apart and where the gravity is strong enough to hold things together.”

About 

Fraser Cain is the publisher of Universe Today. He's also the co-host of Astronomy Cast with Dr. Pamela Gay.

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