So, yeah. This image is pretty big. Astronomers have stitched together a high-resolution view of the Milky Way, which measures an astonishing 46 billion pixels and comes in at 194 gigabytes. Yikes.
Fortunately, you don’t need to download the whole thing to observe it. A handy online tool lets you browse and scan the entire image to your heart’s content, which includes the entire ribbon of our galaxy as seen from Earth. The image, created by observations taken over five years, spans a 1,323-square-degree area of the sky, which is 6,500 times bigger than the full Moon appears in the sky.
The image was created by a team of astronomers from the Ruhr University Bochum in Germany and described in a paper in Astronomical Notes. They used an observatory in the Atacama Desert in Chile to create the image, stitching together multiple images of the night sky as part of the Galactic Disk Survey (GDS). The image itself had to be divided into 268 sections.
If it seems slightly less rich in color compared to some other images of space, this is because the astronomers used a narrowband filter, which doesn’t let many colors through. This allowed the team to more easily find variable objects, ones fluctuating in brightness, which was the goal of the survey.
From their observations, the team were able to discover more than 50,000 variable objects, which includes things like variable stars. This could be the result of planets passing in front, or stars orbiting and obscuring one another.
While viewing the online map, you can use the search function to view several objects of particular interest. Typing in “Eta Carinae”, for example, will take you to a fascinating stellar region in the Carina Nebula, where at least two stars are surrounded by the vast Homunculus Nebula.
Or just zoom and pan to your heart’s content. After all, it’s probably one of the most detailed images of our galaxy you’ll ever see.