Creating the largest astronomy image ever of the Milky Way was a five-year journey for the German astronomers at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum. The end result was a 46 billion pixel photo which showed about 56,000 more bright objects than previously discovered before, and now the public has the ability to scan this image to look for new discoveries.
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To put the largest astronomy image into perspective, a brand new 4K UltraHD TV has 8,847,360 pixels, based upon its resolution. Thus, this huge Milky Way photo would require about 5,200 Ultra HDTVs in order to display it properly. Assuming you went with 70 inch Ultra HDTVs (why not, since we are dreaming), viewing this gigantic photo in all its glory would require almost 364,000 inches of viewing space, or many miles worth of TVs, in order to see it stretched end to end. Of course, this barely does the size of the Milky Way galaxy justice, since it is about 1 quintillion kilometers across from side to side.
The sheer size of the Milky Way galaxy also explains why it took five years to create the largest astronomy image ever. The area the German astronomers were observing was so large that they needed to subdivide the Milky Way photos into 268 individual images. The process of photographing each section of the Milky Way required several days using the telescopes at the Bochum University Observatory in the Atacama Desert in Chile. Night after night, the team from the Chair of Astrophysics took pictures of the southern sky.
“For five years, the astronomers from Bochum have been monitoring our Galaxy in the search of objects with variable brightness. Those objects may, for example, include stars in front of which a planet is passing, or multiple systems where stars orbit each other and which obscure each other every now and then,” explained the press release.
After the research team assembled all these subdivided pieces, several weeks were required to calculate the merged image, including taking into multiple filters used when taking the images. In the end, they produced a 194 gigabyte image file, which was uploaded onto the internet for the world to see.
The purpose behind the largest astronomy image ever was to search for variable objects of medium brightness. The lead author of the astronomer team, Moritz Hackstein, needed the extra detail provided by this huge Milky Way galaxy photo in order to discover how stars were changing in the night sky.
For example, systems with multiple stars orbiting around will vary in brightness based upon the time of their orbit. Other stars may pulse, or perhaps we will discover something odder than what was discovered by the Kepler telescope. So far, the researchers have found 64,151 new sources of light out their in the Milky Way galaxy, and what is amazing is that 56,794 of those light-emitting objects have never been seen before.
In any case, the researchers at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum have provided an online tool for viewing the largest astronomy image ever made.
“Using the online tool, any interested person can view the complete ribbon of the Milky Way at a glance, or zoom in and inspect specific areas. An input window, which provides the position of the displayed image section, can be used to search for specific objects. If the user types in ‘Eta Carinae,’ for example, the tool moves to the respective star; the search term ‘M8’ leads to the lagoon nebula,” explained the press release.
[Image via Screenshot Of Ruhr-Universität Bochums Tool]