Milky Way photo with 46 billion pixels biggest astronomical image

A small section of the Milky Way

The image, made by astronomers at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany, was compiled from five years worth of astronomical observations. In his PhD thesis, Moritz Hackstein is compiling a catalogue of such variable objects of medium brightness. These materials may entail stars located in front of a passing planet and numerous systems where stars rotate and sometimes abstruse each other.

The team took pictures of the southern sky every night, taking multiple pictures of 268 sections of the night sky. More than 50,000 new variable objects, which had hitherto not been recorded in databanks, have been discovered by the researchers so far. They captured a photo of each region in intervals for a couple of days. The researchers also compared the images to determine the variable brightness of each other.

In the end, the team was able to assemble individual photo sections into one extensive image. Using different filters, the images were converted into a single file which was so huge that the digital size was computed for two weeks.

Sadly, even with 46 billion pixels, the image comes nowhere near being complete: with an estimated septillion (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) visible stars in the sky, there are (according to Wolfram Alpha) more than 7 trillion more stars you could theoretically see in space than there are pixels in this photograph.

An input window, which provides the position of the displayed image section, can be used to search for specific objects, it added. For example, if the user keys in "Eta Carinae", the tool will maneuver to the corresponding star.

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