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A Staggering 3.32 Billion Celestial Objects Dot an Enormous New Image of the Milky Way
February 13, 2023
A massive new composite released earlier this year reveals a confounding number of stars in the Milky Way. An international collaboration gathered from multiple telescopes at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, the stunning work captures a staggering 3.32 billion celestial objects across 130 degrees of the night sky—for context, the NSF’s NOIRLab team, which is responsible for the 21,400-image composite, shares that this stretch “equates to 13,000 times the angular area of the full moon.”
Requiring about 260 hours of observation, this new release follows data shared in 2017, although its breadth is far greater and allows for a complete 360-degree panoramic view. The full image shown below highlights the Milky Way’s vibrant band containing most of the stellar objects, while the detailed crop above captures an extraordinarily concentrated area. Researchers said about the density in a statement:
While this profusion of stars and dust makes for beautiful images, it also makes the galactic plane challenging to observe. The dark tendrils of dust seen threading through this image absorb starlight and blot out fainter stars entirely, and the light from diffuse nebulae interferes with any attempts to measure the brightness of individual objects. Another challenge arises from the sheer number of stars, which can overlap in the image and make it difficult to disentangle individual stars from their neighbors.
In addition to the standalone images, astronomers also released an interactive version for those interested in exploring specific locations and details within the celestial expanse. (via Kottke)
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