Adler planetarium unleashes 2.5 gigapixel image of the galaxy

By Phil Plait | December 2, 2009 9:35 am

If you’re in Chicago, then you might want to head over to the Adler planetarium today, when they unveil an enormous 2.5 billion pixel mosaic of the Galaxy! It’s composed of 800,000 separate Spitzer Space Telescope images (I mean, c’mon, holy Haleakala, eight hundred thousand images!) stitched together. The image was actually released last year, but the ginormous print version is premiering at Adler today.

The image above is one very tiny piece of the mosaic; it was originally about 6000 pixels across, and I shrunk it down by a factor of 10 to fit it here on the blog. And that is still only an eensy weensy piece of the whole thing! Here is a massively ensmallened version of the entire mosaic:


[Click to get a 2400 x 3000 version.]

The images are in the infrared, well outside what the eye can see. The colors represent IR light at 3.6, 8, and 24 microns (depicted in the picture as blue, green, and red). Different objects emit at different wavelengths: warm dust is red, while nebulae forming stars are yellow. The diffuse green glow seen everywhere in the image is from complex organic molecules called PAHs, or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. On Earth those are created when fossil fuels are burned; in space, they are byproducts of stellar birth and death.

Not surprisingly, there is no single link to the whole survey. However, all the tiles of the mosaic are available for download at the link above. But be ye fairly warned, says I: each subimage is roughly 25,000 x 13,000 pixels!

This sort of image is more than a stunt; big, splashy surveys like this give us a grand overview of the galaxy. Telescopes like Spitzer, Hubble, Chandra, and so on usually get very deep, very detailed images, but of only a tiny fraction of the sky. By taking all these images and stitching them together, we get an overview of the galaxy that can be used to do statistical searches, look for populations of objects, and perhaps most importantly, get context for objects to see what kind of environment they sit in.

The full mosaic is a stunning 2 degrees high — four times the size of the full Moon on the sky — by 120 degrees. The Spitzer folks created a video (hosted by my bud Robert Hurt) to explain how it was done.

Also, something this size is almost too big for astronomers to probe in detail. So grab yourself an image or two and surf around. See what you find! And if you are in Chicago, what are you waiting for? I’ve been to Adler many times, and it’s one of my favorite planetaria. Go see the giant scale model solar system, and the massive chunk of meteorite from Meteor Crater, Arizona! It’s a wonderful place, and you’ll have a lot of fun.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

Comments (34)

  1. Icepick

    Thanks BA for sharing and putting it in context for us lay-folks!

  2. This is really cool. How big is the image displayed at the planetarium, a few feet high, a few people high, the hight of the building?

  3. Wesley Struebing

    Wow! As a kid, I always enjoyed visiting the Adler Planetarium! And, now they’ve really “done it right”! Kudos to them for building it, and kudos to you, BA, for sharing with us.

  4. Nice overhead projector image!

  5. CW

    @ Todd – LOL, I nearly choked on my sandwich. Nice reference!

    It was a nice video. I was trying to understand just exactly what our perspective of the Milky Way, from our location – and it explained it quite nicely.

  6. Brian S.

    That’s amazing! Too bad we skeptics don’t have a sense of wonder to appreciate it.

  7. Gebraden Kip

    Added Adler to my list of things to see when I visit Chicago in 2 months. Thanks Phil!

  8. Beasjt

    *orders a new printer*

  9. Pineyman

    One question: Any ideas if this will be printed and available for order from anywhere? I’d love to have this for my kids, especially my son. He’s fascinated by space.

  10. Quiet Desperation

    Can they project it in the planetarium?

  11. Cheyenne

    Now I have my excuse to go over there again. Cool.

  12. Dan

    Holy smokes! We are taking my son there next week! Sweet!

  13. So God drives a Chevrolet?

    – Jack

  14. Sam

    I want a wallpaper of the image at the top of the post. Where can I find one? Or what tile is that from so I can make my own?

  15. JohnW

    So, basically, if you strung these all end to end, you’d have a 128 degree view of the galaxy as seen from the sun? With the core at the center?

    In which case, can any of these blobs be seen as a cross section of a spiral arm? Or doesn’t that kind of detail show up, or is maybe obscured?

  16. AJ

    Actually Phil — there is a place online to see it in all it’s glory! Using Google Map technology — You can switch between the 2 different surveys used and variations on the layering. The more colorful one is the GLIMPSE/MIPSGAL combined images.

    Also wanted to note that we’ll be releasing a version of the walkable image in Second Life on Astronomy 2009 island in the coming months (probably January). It arcs out across the island’s sky and is walkable. We’ll also be including some of the point sources as clickable markers in the image, and showing what those areas look like in other wavelengths.


  17. cuggy

    damn, they dont have the full size mosaic in full resolution

  18. A must see at Adler is the Atwood Sphere, a 1913 attempt at producing a realistically appearing sky using mechanical means, rather than projected images. It is basically a 15 foot diameter sphere that you travel into on a small elevating platform. The sphere is punctured with 692 holes that allow light to enter and give the appearance of stars rising and setting behind a stationary horizon.

    Look how far we have come in less than 100 years.

  19. @Thomas As the new press release says, the picture at Adler is 120 feet (or 36.6 meters in real units :-)) wide and between 3 and 6 feet (90 to 180 cm) high.

  20. Geoff

    And Chevrolet wins the marketing award of the year.

    Very cool though. Thanks for posting.

  21. Thanks for the great blog on this installation; we all had a spectacular time today seeing the image in all its glory here at Adler! Plus Ed Churchwell and Sean Cary, the principle investigators of the two datasets, were on hand to give guided tours.

    While I’ve been working with this image in all it’s zoomable incarnations for some time, I must say that Adler’s display left me stunned. The full scale and scope really comes across in the 120 foot march.

    Also, in addition to the and Second Life incarnations, you can see it in Microsoft’s WorldWide Telescope (either downloadable or web versions) and compare it to the visible light sky.

  22. Jennifer Hoffman

    Hooray for GLIMPSE! I’m a UW alum and know Ed Churchwell and many others working on that project. Great to see them getting some well-deserved recognition for years of hard work and fabulous science!

  23. Flying sardines

    Awesome! 8)

    I second the suggestion that it be made into a giant poster.

  24. @ Brian S. “Too bad skeptics don’t have a sense of wonder to appreciate it?” What exactly is that supposed to mean? That unless we believe some ancient Jewish man in the sky created it, that we can’t appreciate it? Ha!

  25. Jim

    Bah…this was obviously done on a soundstage…

  26. idlemind

    Wasn’t Adler the place that was trying to waste over a million dollars of taxpayer money on an “overhead projector” last year?

  27. jackd

    Here is a massively ensmallened version

    Ahem. I learned from Danny Dunn in fourth grade that the correct verb is smallify.

  28. My company would like to bid on naming rights for the moon and a license to display a banner ad (billboard) on its Earth-facing surface that would be visible from Earth. We would also plan to rear-illuminate the sign so it would be visible when natural illumination is not available. At first the sign would display a fixed message, but eventually our plan is to install a full-motion jumbo-tron and sell time to other clients. We realize the sign would be rather large and the materials and installation rather expensive, but we’ve done the ROI and assuming reasonable licensing fees it looks like a good investment. We do not have the resources, however, to accomplish what General Motors has done with their Chevrolet product placement. That is truly impressive. Who do we contact to make aforementioned arrangements?

  29. Dave

    Supernovas are Obamas fault! Black holes don’t exist because I don’t see them! Liberal Media!

  30. Kronin

    Hey,,,where’s Vulcan?

  31. Danny

    Saw this at AAS last January, its 2m tall and about 100m long. Took almost a whole poster session to digest the thing. Most of the astronomers seemed to only give it a perfunctory glance! I hope I never get that old.


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