The sky… yup, it’s F’in big.

15 May

Astronomers release the largest color image of the sky ever made

High[ish]-res sample of pic:

130 BC: Hipparchus develops the first acccurate star map and star catalogue with over 850 of the brightest stars

1609: Gallileo uses a telescope for astronomy

1687: Newton publishes Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica

1675: Ole Romer measures the speed of light.

1781: Messier discovers galaxies, nebula and star clusters while looking for comets

1923: Hubble shows that galaxies exist outside of the Milky Way

1990: Hubble Telescope put into orbit



This illustration shows the wealth of information on scales both small and large available in the SDSS-III’s new image. The picture in the top left shows the SDSS-III view of a small part of the sky, centered on the galaxy Messier 33 (M33). The middle top picture is a further zoom-in on M33, showing the spiral arms of this galaxy, including the blue knots of intense star formation known as “HII regions.” The top right-hand picture is a further zoom into M33 showing the object NGC604, which is one of the largest HII regions in that galaxy. The figure at the bottom is a map of the whole sky derived from the SDSS-III image, divided into the northern and southern hemispheres of our galaxy. Visible in the map are the clusters and walls of galaxies that are the largest structures in the entire universe.

Credit: M. Blanton and the SDSS-III

Astronomers Release the Largest Color Image of the Sky Ever Made

Today, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey-III (SDSS-III) is releasing the largest digital color image of the sky ever made, and it’s free to all. The image has been put together over the last decade from millions of 2.8-megapixel images, thus creating a color image of more than a trillion pixels. This terapixel image is so big and detailed that one would need 500,000 high-definition TVs to view it at its full resolution.

“This image provides opportunities for many new scientific discoveries in the years to come,” exclaims Bob Nichol, a professor at the University of Portsmouth and Scientific Spokesperson for the SDSS-III collaboration.

The new image is at the heart of new data being released by the SDSS-III collaboration at 217th American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle. This new SDSS-III data release, along with the previous data releases that it builds upon, gives astronomers the most comprehensive view of the night sky ever made. SDSS data have already been used to discover nearly half a billion astronomical objects, including asteroids, stars, galaxies and distant quasars. The latest, most precise positions, colors and shapes for all these objects are also being released today.

“This is one of the biggest bounties in the history of science,” says Professor Mike Blanton from New York University, who is leading the data archive work in SDSS-III. Blanton and many other scientists have been working for months preparing the release of all this data. This data will be a legacy for the ages, explains Blanton, as previous ambitious sky surveys like the Palomar Sky Survey of the 1950s are still being used today. We expect the SDSS data to have that sort of shelf life,” comments Blanton.

The image was started in 1998 using what was then the world’s largest digital camera, a 138-megapixel imaging detector on the back of a dedicated 2.5-meter telescope at the Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico, USA. Over the last decade, SDSS has scanned a third of the whole sky. Now, this imaging camera is being retired, and will be part of the permanent collection at the Smithsonian in recognition of its contributions to astronomy.


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