46-Gigapixel View of Milky Way is Largest-Ever Image of Space

by Devin Coldewey /  / Updated 
Lehrstuhl für Astrophysik / Ruhr-Universität Bochum

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Space is big, but it's never been quite this big. This composite image taken by astronomers at Germany's Ruhr-Universität Bochum is, they claim, the largest image of space to date. It shows a long swathe of the Milky Way, photographed piece by piece over a period of five years from the university's observatory in the Chilean desert.

The final image is 46 billion pixels, or 46 gigapixels: 855,000 pixels wide by 54,000 tall. It weighs in at 194 gigabytes, which makes it a bit difficult to download — you have to navigate it in a special viewer like it's an online map. And in a way, it is: The stars are cataloged and you can put the name of one, like Eta Carinae (above) or M8, into the search box and you'll be sent to its location.

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The astronomers didn't put this picture together for kicks, of course. For his Ph.D.thesis, Moritz Hackstein is looking for objects with variable brightness, indicating stars that are periodically obscured by planets, stars or other objects. So far the researchers have found more than 50,000 such objects that were previously unrecorded. And the continued surveillance of the sky has no doubt been helpful for others in the department as well.

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