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The largest astronomical image

06 June 2016

A new 46 billion pixel picture of the Milky Way has become the largest astronomical image ever created. The image, made by astronomers at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany, was compiled from five years worth of astronomical observations.

The project's aim was to identify 'variable objects' -- essentially objects in space whose brightness is varied. This can include stars in front of which a planet is passing, or stellar systems in which stars obscure each others brightness in orbit. The images were recorded at the Bochum university observatory in the Atacama Desert in Chile.

To observe these variable objects, the team, lead by professor Rolf Chini, split the observations into 268 subdivisions. Each of these subdivisions was then photographed regularly over a number of months in order to compare the brightness of the variable objects. The photographs were then compiled into the 46 billion pixel mosaic of images.

More than 50,000 unrecorded objects have been discovered by the team during the course of the research.

The image, which is now on the university's website, can also be filtered and searched. Users can search for specific celestial objects, see the entire Milky Way or adjust a number of brightness and gamma settings.

Sadly even with 46 billion pixels, the image comes nowhere near being complete: with an estimated septillion (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) visible stars in the sky, there are (according to Wolfram Alpha) more than 7 trillion more stars you could theoretically see in space than there are pixels in this photograph.

 Picture 1