Physicist makes new high-res panorama of Milky Way

Oct 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: Can astronomy explain the biblical Star of Bethlehem?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Research tracks whales by listening to sounds

Jan 02, 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. ...

Midsummer's Dream Galaxies

Aug 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 t ...

Hubble Captures a 'Five-Star' Rated Gravitational Lens

May 23, 2006

The multiple-image effect seen in the Hubble picture is produced by a process called gravitational lensing, in which the gravitational field of a massive object -- in this case, a cluster of galaxies -- bends ...

Hubble photographs grand spiral galaxy Messier 81

May 29, 2007

The beautiful galaxy Messier 81 is tilted at an oblique angle on to our line of sight, giving a "birds-eye view" of the spiral structure. The galaxy is similar to our Milky Way, but our favourable view provides ...

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 ...

Recommended for you

Can astronomy explain the biblical Star of Bethlehem?

Dec 24, 2014

Bright stars top Christmas trees in Christian homes around much of the world. The faithful sing about the Star of Wonder that guided the wise men to a manger in the little town of Bethlehem, where Jesus was ...

Hubbles spies the beautiful galaxy IC 335

Dec 24, 2014

This new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows the galaxy IC 335 in front of a backdrop of distant galaxies. IC 335 is part of a galaxy group containing three other galaxies, and located in the Fornax ...

Image: Multicoloured view of supernova remnant

Dec 22, 2014

Most celestial events unfold over thousands of years or more, making it impossible to follow their evolution on human timescales. Supernovas are notable exceptions, the powerful stellar explosions that make ...

Ultra-luminous X-ray sources in starburst galaxies

Dec 22, 2014

Ultra-luminous X-ray sources (ULXs) are point sources in the sky that are so bright in X-rays that each emits more radiation than a million suns emit at all wavelengths. ULXs are rare. Most galaxies (including ...

When a bright light fades

Dec 22, 2014

Astronomer Charles Telesco is primarily interested in the creation of planets and stars. So, when the University of Florida's giant telescope was pointed at a star undergoing a magnificent and explosive death, ...

User comments : 3

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.