Astronomers at the Australian National University have just released the most comprehensive map of the southern sky, which includes over 300 million stars and galaxies in 70,000 individual images.
The data collected to create the map can be accessed by everyone worldwide via the SkyMapper project website and the images can be all seen in the useful Sky Viewer, so you can explore the southern sky from the comfort of your own home.
"The map of the southern sky we've released to the world today is the best ever created, but this is only the beginning of a five-year program to capture it in all its splendour," lead researcher Dr Christian Wolf from the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, said in a statement.
While this is the best map so far, it is not the end result for the SkyMapper telescope, which sports an impressive 270-megapixel camera. Its final map will include objects that are a million times fainter than the faintest object visible to the naked eye. It will also be a huge improvement to the current, already impressive, map.
"The final map will show stars and galaxies that are up to 50 times fainter than the limits of this map," Dr Wolf added.
Early release data from SkyMapper has already contributed to many discoveries, like for example the observation of the oldest star in the universe. The newly available dataset will definitely allow us to discover more intriguing and hopefully record-breaking objects.
"SkyMapper's special filters probe light across a range of colours beyond what the human eye can see, reaching into the near-ultraviolet and the near-infrared," added co-researcher Dr Christopher Onken also from the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics.
"This abundant colour information is crucially important to search for astronomical 'needles in the haystack' among the vast number of stars in this map."
The SkyMapper project is funded by the Australian Research Council and it will image the southern sky with its six spectral filters over the course of five years. It is expected to have a whopping 1 billion observed objects by the time the final map is release.