Astronomers at the Ruhr-Universitat Bochum (RUB) have incredibly busy these last five years photographing the sky night after night in order to search for objects with variable brightness and in doing so they have compiled this amazing 46 billion pixel photo of the Milky Way making it the largest astronomical image of all time:
The Milky Way is so large the astronomers had to subdivide it into 268 sections, photographing each section in intervals of several days using the telescopes at Bochum’s university observatory in the Atacama Desert, Chile in order to identify variable objects. They then assembled the images of the 268 sections into one gigantic 194 Gigabyte file (a process which took several weeks to calculate). More than 50,000 new variable objects were found and these new objects could be multiple systems where stars orbit each other or stars with planets passing in front of them.
Obviously the image is way too big to fit on our screens properly so they have also created this online tool for viewers to either search for specific objects in the Milky Way or to browse and inspect any areas that take your fancy.
NB. The http://gds.astro.rub.de/ site seems to be having some loading issues with zoomed images taking a long time to load detail (understandably so given the file sizes it’s dealing with). We’ll update this post when we get a few more close ups.