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Largest Astronomical Image of All Time -- The Milky Way in 46 Billion Pixels

10/27/2015 07:45PM

Largest Astronomical Image of All Time -- The Milky Way in 46 Billion Pixels
Astronomers at the Ruhr-Universitat Bochum in Germany have compiled the largest astronomical image of the night sky to date -- A picture of the Milky Way containing 46 billion pixels. In order to view it, Dr. Rolf Chini, Professor of Astrophysics, and his team of researchers have developed an online tool. The image contains data gathered in astronomical observations over a period of five years.

For the past five years, the astronomers from Bochum have been monitoring our Galaxy in search of objects with variable brightness. These objects may include planets passing in front of stars, or multiple stellar systems where stars orbit each other and one obscures the other every now and then.

In his PhD thesis, graduate student Moritz Hackstein has been compiling a catalog of such variable objects. To achieve this, the team takes pictures of the southern sky night after night. They use the telescopes at Bochum's university observatory in the Atacama Desert in Chile. More than 50,000 new variable objects, which had hitherto not been recorded, have been discovered by the researchers so far.

The area that the astronomers observe is so large that they needed to subdivide it into 268 sections. They photograph each section in intervals of several days and by comparing the images, they are able to identify the variable objects. The team has assembled the individual images of the 268 sections into one comprehensive image -- the largest astronomical image of the night sky to date. Following a processing period of several weeks, they created a 194 Gigabyte file, into which images taken with different filters have been entered. The end result is a picture of the Milky Way containing 46 billion pixels.

An online tool facilitates the search for individual celestial objects. 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.

The online tool can be found at:

http://gds.astro.rub.de


For more information:

http://aktuell.ruhr-uni-bochum.de/pm2015/pm00143.html.en

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