M31 (NGC 224), the famous Great Andromeda Galaxy, is the nearest large galaxy to the earth. It is so bright that it is easily seen by naked eye as a faint fuzzy patch of light in the northern part of Andromeda. It forms part of the Local Group of galaxies along with our Milky Way, M33, and some others. Also seen in this photograph are M31’s companion galaxies M101 (below) and M32 (above). M31 is an ‘island universe’ – a gigantic collection of billions of stars estimated to be 2.9 million light years distant. It has been observed since ancient times and was first catalogued as long ago as 905 AD. Charles Messier recorded it in his famous Messier catalogue in August 1764.