First star to the right, and straight on ’til morning…

By DeusExMacintosh

 A Billion Stars


Scientists have produced a colossal picture of our Milky Way Galaxy, to reveal the detail of a billion stars.

It is built from thousands of individual images acquired by two UK-developed telescopes operating in Hawaii and in Chile. Archived data from the project, known as the Vista Data Flow System, will be mined by astronomers to make new discoveries about the local cosmos. But more simply, it represents a fabulous portrait of the night sky.

“There are about one billion stars in there – this is more than has been in any other image produced by surveys,” said Dr Nick Cross from the University of Edinburgh.

“When it was first produced, I played with it for hours; it’s just stunning,” he told BBC News.

Dr Cross has been presenting the new work to the UK National Astronomy Meeting (NAM) here in Manchester.

The image concentrates on the dense plane of the galaxy, which means it renders as a very long, very thin strip. That makes it is virtually impossible to show in a meaningful way on this page.

Dr Cross and colleagues have though produced an online interactive tool that allows the user to zoom in to particular areas. Even then, these smaller fragments of sky will contain thousands of stars.

The project has been 10 years in the making. It combines data from the UKIDSS/GPS sky survey acquired by the UK Infrared Telescope in Hawaii with the VVV survey data acquired by the Vista telescope in Chile. These astronomical facilities view the sky at infrared wavelengths, enabling them to see past the dust in the Milky Way that would ordinarily obscure observations made at optical, or visible, wavelengths.

UKIRT is responsible for the right end of the image; Vista produced the left, including the more extensive block of coverage which traces the centre of the galaxy and its surrounding bulge of stars. (Black squares in the image are data gaps that are in the process of being filled).

Researchers at the universities of Edinburgh and Cambridge processed and archived all the data that underpins the big picture, and have made it available to astronomers around the world for future study.


BBC News


  1. paul walter
    Posted March 30, 2012 at 2:55 am | Permalink

    Millions of light year. Quadrillions of years to walk between one star and the next, if we could..

  2. kvd
    Posted March 30, 2012 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Dr Cross said “I played with it for hours; it’s just stunning” . I read that, and thought it a bit over the top. But then I found some spooky green things after having ‘a go of it’ myself – so perhaps he’s right.

    Thumbs up to DEM for a fascinating link.

  3. Jolly
    Posted March 30, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    Awesome! Magnificent. And we Earthlings are still fretting over mundane, insignificant trivia like boarders, refugees, religion, language, politics, etc.

  4. Patrick
    Posted March 30, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    If you live on Earth, maybe the stars are trivial…?

  5. Posted March 30, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    You’re right Jolly – it does put things in perspective, rather… though if there is extraterrestrial life space may just become a new forum for the same problem of borders, refugees, religion, language, politics, etc.

    Is interstellar travel even possible? Not just from the power/physics point of view but your basic bacteriological incompatability, War of the Worlds-stylee. Would we be immune to ‘alien’ bugs or be killed instantly by the most basic bacteria in an alien biosphere?

    [Yes, I grew up reading science fiction. Does it show?]

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