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German Astronomers Unveil Largest-Ever Astronomical Image: Milky Way Photo Features 46 Billion Pixels

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German astronomers have come up with the largest known image of the Milky Way to date — a 46 billion pixel photo with a file size of 194 GB, featuring a vast bed of stars. The photo was finally completed through five years' worth of data gathering in astronomical studies.

The astronomers from Ruhr University Bochum led by Dr. Rolf Chini have been following the Milky Way in the quest for cosmic objects that exude variable brightness. These materials may entail stars located in front of a passing planet and numerous systems where stars rotate and sometimes abstruse each other.

Moritz Hackstein, who was then working on his thesis as part of his doctoral studies, compiled pictures of objects with medium brightness. Part of this endeavor is the nightly capturing of southern sky images by a group from the Chair of Astrophysics.

The team utilized the telescopes of the university's observatory in the Atacama Desert in Chile for the project. So far, over 50,000 new variable materials have been discovered and recorded.

The astronomers had to divide the subject area of study into 268 sections because of its massive size. They captured a photo of each region in intervals for a couple of days. They then compared the images and were able to determine the objects with variable brightness.

In the end, the team was able to assemble individual photo sections into one extensive image. The images were taken using different filters and entered into one file, that is so huge, the size was determined after calculating it for a couple of weeks.

The researchers have provided an online tool where the public could see the entire Milky Way just by merely looking at their work. "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," the researchers.

Users can observe specific regions of the galaxy through an input window, which also gives the position of the photo section being displayed. For example, if the user keys in "Eta Carinae," the tool will maneuver to the corresponding star.

The endeavor of locating and collating data about the 50,000 new objects was described in a scientific journal called Astronomical Notes, first published online on Oct. 4, 2012.

Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center | Flickr

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