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Astronomers Unveil a 46-Gigapixel Photo of the Milky Way That Took 5 Years to Make

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Last year, NASA released a 20-gigapixel photo of the Milky Way that was made up of over 2 million infrared photos. Back in January, NASA published a 1.5-gigapixel photo of the Andromeda Galaxy. If you thought those were big photos, get this: German astronomers have created the largest astronomical photo ever made: a ridiculously big 46-gigapixel photo of the Milky Way that took 5 years to make.

Researchers at Ruhr University Bochum started the project half a decade ago to search for objects in space that change in their brightness over time. After dividing a section of the southern sky into 268 different sections, the scientists spent days creating ultra-high-resolution photos of each one with telescopes at the Cerro Armazones Observatory in Chile.

Once all of the sections had been photographed, the team stitched together those 268 giant photos into an ultra-giant, 46-gigapixel photo that weighs a monstrous 194 gigabytes.

The photo is so big that you’ll need to use the interactive online viewer in order to experience it properly. It looks like a narrow and jagged panorama when you’re zoomed all the way out.

A small segment of the wide panoramic photo.
A small segment of the wide panoramic photo.

Zoom in, however, and you’ll see that the image contains a ridiculous amount of detail (and number of stars):

A tiny crop of the segment above.
A tiny crop of the segment above.
Zooming in further to the tiny crop of the small segment.
Zooming in further to the tiny crop of the small segment.

The researchers say they have discovered over 50,000 of the variable stars they set out to find using this giant photo. Head on over to the online viewer if you’d like to experience this photo for yourself.


Image credits: Photographs by Lehrstuhl für Astrophysik, RUB

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