GigaGalaxy Zoom

[updated to include a video from ESOCast at the end of the post]

Have you seen our Milky Way Galaxy stretch across the night sky before? Have you seen a nebula before? Yes? No? No matter what’s the answer, you need a dark sky to see it. If your life is always hanging around a city, most probably you don’t have access to dark sky. Even if you do, sometimes cloudy sky will get in the way.

But now, things have changed. In this digital age, you can enjoy the glory of our Galaxy right in front of your computer – through the GigaGalaxy Zoom Project.

The ESO’s GigaGalaxy Zoom project reveals the full sky as it appears with the unaided eye from one of the darkest deserts on Earth, then it zooms in on a rich region of the Milky Way using a hobby telescope, and finally uses the power of a professional telescope to reveal the details of an iconic nebula.

The creators of the GigaGalaxy Zoom project hope that these tremendous efforts in bringing the night sky as observed under the best conditions on the planet to stargazers everywhere will inspire awe for the beautiful, immense Universe that we live in.

“The vision of the IYA2009 is to help people rediscover their place in the Universe through the day- and night-time sky, and this is exactly what the GigaGalaxy Zoom project is all about,” says project coordinator Henri Boffin.

GigaGalaxy Zoom features a web tool that allows users to take a breathtaking dive into our Milky Way. With this tool users can learn more about many different and exciting objects in the image, such as multicoloured nebulae and exploding stars, just by clicking on them.


Milky Way Panorama. Credit: ESO/S. Brunier.
Click image for high resolution image (Warning: 24MB)

The first of three amazing, ultra-high-resolution images of GigaGalaxy Zoom project is a magnificent 800-million-pixel panorama of the entire sky as seen from ESO’s observing sites in Chile. This 360-degree panoramic image reveals the cosmic landscape that surrounds our tiny blue planet. The plane of our Milky Way Galaxy, which we see edge-on from our perspective on Earth, cuts a luminous swath across the image.

The painstaking production of this image came about as a collaboration between ESO, the renowned French writer and astrophotographer Serge Brunier and his fellow Frenchman Frédéric Tapissier. Brunier spent several weeks during the period between August 2008 and February 2009 capturing the sky, mostly from ESO observatories at La Silla and Paranal in Chile.


Galatic Centre. Credit: ESO/S. Guisard.
Click image high resolution image (Warning: 26MB)

The second image is a new and wonderful 340-million-pixel vista of the central parts of our home galaxy as seen from ESO’s Paranal Observatory with an amateur telescope. This 34 by 20-degree wide image shows the region from Sagittarius to Scorpius.

The very colourful Rho Ophiuchi and Antares region is a prominent feature to the right, although much darker areas, such as the Pipe and Snake nebulae also stand out. The dusty lane of our Milky Way runs obliquely through the image, dotted with remarkable bright, reddish nebulae, such as the Lagoon and the Trifid Nebulae, as well as NGC 6357 and NGC 6334. This dark lane also hosts the very centre of our Galaxy, where a supermassive black hole is lurking.

Stéphane Guisard, world-renowned astrophotographer and an ESO engineer, made the second image. To create this stunning, true-colour mosaic of the Galactic Centre region, Guisard assembled about 1200 individual images, totalling more than 200 hours of exposure time, collected over 29 nights.


The Lagoon Nebula. Credit: ESO.
Click image for extremely high resolution image (Warning: 65MB)

The third and final image is a 370-million-pixel breathtaking vista of the M8 – the Lagoon Nebula, and demonstrates the quality and depth of the observations needed by professional astronomers in their quest to understand our Universe.

Lagoon Nebula is located roughly 5000 light-years away towards the constellation Sagittarius. The nebula is a giant interstellar cloud, 100 light-years across, where stars are forming. The scattered dark patches seen all over the nebula are huge clouds of gas and dust that will soon give birth to clusters of young, glowing stars.

The image was taken with the 67-million-pixel Wide Field Imager attached to the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile and covers more than one and a half square degree.

So, there you go, dive into our galaxy, explore and admire its beauty with just mouse clicks away.

Source: European Southern Observatory – Press Release 1, 2, 3.


ESOCast10: GigaGalaxy Zoom – The Sky, from the Eye to the Telescope

Click here to download the video


~ by thChieh on September 29, 2009.

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