Milky Way’s star fields shown in largest astronomical image ever made

The Guardian

23 Oct. 2015

Lose yourself in the glorious star fields of the Milky Way. Astronomers at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) have compiled the largest astronomical image ever made and released it to the general public.

The full image is a mosaic of 268 individual images. It is contained in a single data file of 194 Gigabytes. Made up of 46 billion pixels, it is so huge that the astronomers have provided an online tool to help view it.

The tool allows users to navigate around, zoom in and out, and explore the depths of space. It takes a while to load the zoomed images even with a good broadband connection but the rewards are worth it. What appear like smudges at one scale resolve into jewel-box star clusters at the deeper level.

A text box shows the coordinates of the image on display but can also be used to show specific celestial objects. For example, type in ‘Eta Carinae’ to see the explosive aftermath of this unstable star, or the Messier catalogue number (listed here) of an object in the Milky Way to be taken straight there.

The image is the result of five years monitoring the night sky using the telescope at the university’s observatory in the Atacama Desert in Chile. The monitoring programme has allowed astronomer Moritz Hackstein and other researchers to discover 50,000 previously unknown variable celestial objects.

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