Physicist makes new high-res panorama of Milky Way

October 28, 2009
This is a full sky panorama of the Milky Way. Credit: Dr. Axel Mellinger

Cobbling together 3000 individual photographs, a physicist has made a new high-resolution panoramic image of the full night sky, with the Milky Way galaxy as its centerpiece. Axel Mellinger, a professor at Central Michigan University, describes the process of making the panorama in the November issue of Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

An interactive version of the picture can viewed on Mellinger's website: http://home.arcor.de/axel.mellinger/.

"This panorama image shows stars 1000 times fainter than the human eye can see, as well as hundreds of galaxies, star clusters and nebulae," Mellinger said. Its high resolution makes the panorama useful for both educational and scientific purposes, he says.

Mellinger spent 22 months and traveled over 26,000 miles to take digital photographs at dark sky locations in South Africa, Texas and Michigan. After the photographs were taken, "the real work started," Mellinger said.

Simply cutting and pasting the images together into one big picture would not work. Each photograph is a two-dimensional projection of the celestial sphere. As such, each one contains distortions, in much the same way that flat maps of the round Earth are distorted. In order for the images to fit together seamlessly, those distortions had to be accounted for. To do that, Mellinger used a mathematical model—and hundreds of hours in front of a computer.

Another problem Mellinger had to deal with was the differing background light in each photograph.

"Due to artificial , natural air glow, as well as sunlight scattered by dust in our solar system, it is virtually impossible to take a wide-field astronomical photograph that has a perfectly uniform background," Mellinger said.

To fix this, Mellinger used data from the Pioneer 10 and 11 space probes. The data allowed him to distinguish star light from unwanted background light. He could then edit out the varying background light in each photograph. That way they would fit together without looking patchy.

The result is an image of our home galaxy that no star-gazer could ever see from a single spot on earth. Mellinger plans to make the giant 648 megapixel image available to planetariums around the world.

Source: University of Chicago (news : web)

Explore further: Midsummer's Dream Galaxies

Related Stories

Midsummer's Dream Galaxies

August 10, 2005

What does the galaxy in which we live look like? It is almost certain that we will never be able to send a probe out of our Milky Way to take a snapshot, in the same way as the first satellites could do to give us striking ...

Research tracks whales by listening to sounds

January 2, 2006

Researchers have developed a new tool to help them study endangered whales – autonomous hydrophones that can be deployed in the ocean to record the unique clicks, pulses and calls of different whale species. Those efforts ...

Endangered right whales found where presumed extinct

May 20, 2009

Using a system of underwater hydrophones that can record sounds from hundreds of miles away, a team of scientists from Oregon State University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has documented the presence ...

Recommended for you

Prawn Nebula: Cosmic recycling

September 2, 2015

Dominating this image is part of the nebula Gum 56, illuminated by the hot bright young stars that were born within it. For millions of years stars have been created out of the gas in this nebula, material which is later ...

Comet Hitchhiker would take tour of small bodies

September 2, 2015

Catching a ride from one solar system body to another isn't easy. You have to figure out how to land your spacecraft safely and then get it on its way to the next destination. The landing part is especially tricky for asteroids ...

New Horizons team selects potential Kuiper Belt flyby target

August 29, 2015

NASA has selected the potential next destination for the New Horizons mission to visit after its historic July 14 flyby of the Pluto system. The destination is a small Kuiper Belt object (KBO) known as 2014 MU69 that orbits ...

4 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

codesuidae
not rated yet Oct 28, 2009
Who wants to volunteer to get this into Celestia?
omatumr
Oct 28, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
SteveL
1 / 5 (1) Oct 28, 2009
I didn't see the "You are Here" 3-D "X" marks the spot. Just kidding.

Presently I use the Hubble Deep Field picture as the desktop picture on my computer screen. I'd like to be able to use this also.
LKD
not rated yet Oct 28, 2009
Absolutely wonderful, Axel Mellinger. A very nice project to see completed. Thank you for doing this.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.