Milky Way shown off in 46 billion pixels

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Researchers at Ruhr-Universität Bochum have created the largest ever astronomical image to date to represent our galaxy – the Milky Way – in a whopping 46 billion pixels.

The image comprises of 268 sections and according to astronomers at the University, they photographed each of the sections at intervals of several days. Further, the image contains data and astronomical observations over a period of five years and you can view it through an online tool created by the team of researchers led by Prof Dr Rolf Chini from the Chair of Astrophysics at the University.

Astronomers looked for objects with variable brightness over the course of 5 years to create the 46 billion pixel image of the Milky Way. The observations include objects with variable brightness including 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.

Using telescopes at Bochum’s university observatory in the Atacama Desert in Chile, researchers including Moritz Hackstein – a PhD graduate at the University – have captured more than 50,000 new variable objects. Hackstein has compiled a catalogue of these variable objects of medium brightness, which haven’t been recorded in any databanks across the world so far.

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. Following a calculation period of several weeks, they created a 194 Gigabyte file, into which images taken with different filters have been entered.

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.