Astronomers working at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) just released a magnificent new image of the Milky Way galaxy that displays over 84 million stars — 10 times the amount shown in previous studies.
The image is composed of thousands of individual photos stitched together by computer imaging software. Interestingly, the data is so dense (over 9 billion pixels) that — if printed at the standard resolution of a book — it would stretch 23 feet tall and 30 feet wide!
The survey was conducted by a Chilean team of astronomers working at the ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile. According to Roberto Saito, who was in charge of the study:
By observing in detail the myriads of stars surrounding the center of the Milky Way, we can learn about the formation and evolution of not only our galaxy, but also spiral galaxies in general.
We’re making all the data publicly available through the ESO data archive, so we expect many other exciting results to come out of this great resource.
The team used the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA), because infrared light is not affected by gas and dust near clusters of stars. Dante Minniti, a study co-author, adds:
Observations of the bulge of the Milky Way are very hard, because it’s obscured by dust. We need to observe in infrared light, which is less affected by the dust.
There is still more work to do. The new chart is good at identifying red dwarf stars, but objects like pulsars and binary stars are under-represented. The researchers hope to merge this with a separate study of the same data in order to increase the map’s accuracy and usefulness.
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