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Picture tells story of
a billion stars

Posted: 30 March 2012

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More than one billion stars are seen together in a new image of the Milky Way created by combining over ten thousand smaller images from telescopes in both hemispheres, astronomers revealed this week at the National Astronomy Meeting in Manchester.

The full image contains 150 billion pixels and is published online with an interactive zoom tool centred on a large star-formation region, but even the innermost zoom contains more than ten thousand stars.

Sections of the new image of the plane of the Milky Way. Click here for the pannable, zoomable version of the full image.

“You’d need about 500 metres of wall space to get down to a millimetre pixel resolution, if you were going to print it out,” Nick Cross of the University of Edinburgh told Astronomy Now. “We mosaicked together over ten thousand smaller images taken by two telescopes to cover the whole of the plane of the Milky Way, and in particular the central region of the galactic bulge.”

The image comprises data captured by the UKIDSS/GPS survey taken by the UK Infrared Telescope in Hawaii with the VVV survey from the VISTA telescope in Chile, and is the result of a decade long collaboration between astronomers at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Cambridge.

Zoomed in detail of the billion star image. Image: Mike Read (WFAU), UKIDSS/GPS and VVV.

Everything from new star clusters and nebulae, to supernova remnants and light echoes from old supernova are likely buried in the treasure map.

“The real bread and butter of this work has been developing the science archive, which will allow scientists across the world to find rare objects and to do statistical science on large scales,” says Cross. “It will really help scientists find the needle in a haystack of rare stellar objects.”

Click here for the pannable, zoomable version of the full image.