Tour the galaxy with this pan-and-scan all-sky picture!

By Phil Plait | April 28, 2011 10:00 am

You’ll need to clear your schedule for the next few minutes, because you really want to dive into this incredible pan-and-scan image taken of the entire night sky.

This incredible work is the brainchild of Nick Risinger, who traveled a hundred thousand kilometers in total to get the 37,440 photographs necessary to make this 5000 megapixel mosaic!

It shows the entire sky, and you can play with the interactive version that has toggled constellation outlines and is mapped into equal-area projection, or zoom in and out of the rectangular image. Both are simply amazing.

The images are sharp and clear, with a lot of detail. You can zoom in on the Orion Nebula, the Andromeda Galaxy, or just something that catches your eye. He used "natural color" (LRGB) filters, with the addition of one that accentuates warm hydrogen gas; you can see that as the diffuse red clouds scattered across the sky. I was floored by the quality of this mosaic, and spent a lot of time just panning around, seeing what there was to see. The region near the galactic center and along the plane are stunning.

You should read his story of how he made it, too. It’s inspiring. It took him a long time and an amount of effort I have a hard time comprehending. I’m glad he did, of course, not just because of the beautiful outcome of his travails, but also simply because it makes me happy to know there are people out there so willing to devote so much to doing what they love.

Image used under Creative Commons license, by Nick Risinger,

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

Comments (22)

Links to this Post

  1. Give This Man an Award « astrowriter | April 29, 2011
  1. Messier Tidy Upper

    I’m glad he did this too. Superluminous (beyond merely brilliant) image. Thankyou. :-)

  2. *shakes fist* Curse you, Phil Plait and Nick Risinger! The first half of my day was so productive and now I just know I’m going to be looking at this for the rest of the day. Especially since I accidentally figured out the keyboard commands. Up, Down, Left & Right arrows to pan. Control to zoom out. Shift to zoom in.

    And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to zoom in on this second star to the right…

  3. Glen

    where are the turtles?

  4. Austen Redman

    I had great fun identifying Orion and and other familiar constellations. If you zoom out and pan around you rally get a sense of our position in the galaxy.

  5. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Glen : Keep looking – all the way down .. 😉

  6. Joseph G

    I really wish I could post images, because “Wow!” doesn’t do this justice.
    Imagine a picture of a couple of eyes bugging out…

    Sweet Spaghetti, this is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a Total Perspective Vortex :)
    Thankfully… 😛

  7. Joseph G

    Lens-flares! Bahaha!
    I guess if you’ve put that much time into something, you want to spiff it up. As if it needed it!!

  8. Damon

    Stunning. And thorough.

  9. Chip

    This is really cool!

    I noticed on extreme closeup he occasionally slips in his copyright notice- (which doesn’t interfere with the view.) – or perhaps those are large alien structures. 😉

    I like zooming in on the nebulae too!

  10. That’s equivalent to a 5 gigapixel camera. How long is it going to be before I can pick one up at Best Buy for $99?

  11. Chris

    Not to diminish what he did, but didn’t Google Sky do this a few years ago?

  12. MarkyMark

    so how many other galaxies can we see in this picture?

  13. Mathias R.

    i want a print of that. :-(

  14. Superb piece of work, Nick, and I’m really looking forward to fully exploring it. Hope you don’t mind if I add a personal note to Glen (with one “N” )and Messier Tidy Upper: This is SO weird. As noted, my name is Glenn (with two “N’s” ) and I make my living as a Screenwriter. I was the Story Editor (head writer) on the Canadian TV series, “Mysterious Island,” and in one of the episodes I wrote, our castaways ran into a tribe of Natives, whose female leader explained the Earth as being the back of a giant turtle. When our castaway leader asked what the Turtle was standing on, the woman answered, “Silly man … It be Turtles all the way down”! So you can imagine my surprise when I read your notes.

  15. Joseph G

    @ 11 Chris: Well yes, and Google Sky lets you zoom in further. But it’s not as seamless as this – not by a long shot. Even the Milky Way from a very wide FOV in Google Sky has big blocky chunks visible.
    GSky may be technically superior, but this one is just beautiful… Topographic map vs watercolor landscape: which do you want on your living room wall? 😛
    (Ok, if you’re a geek like me, you’d probably go with the topographic map. Or better yet, an aviation chart. I love av charts, possibly because I still harbor unlikely dreams of being a pilot when I grow up) 😀

  16. Joseph G

    @10 PsyberDave: If Moore’s law holds for megapixels as well as computers, about 13 years for a 5 gigapixel camera to come out, though it probably won’t be $99 for another few years after that 😀

  17. Brian Too

    The technology basis of this appears to be Adobe Flash with an extension or framework called OpenZoom. The author of OpenZoom also references a Microsoft technology called SeaDragon.

    The overall effect is much like using Google Earth. It seems to dynamically download only the parts of the image you are currently looking at, with content provided at your current zoom level. This achieves good interactive performance by providing an initial level of detail (not so good) and then fills in better quality tiles as the remote server and your network link can deliver them.

    With these systems the usual limiting factor on system performance is the speed of your network connection.

    A very impressive system. And one that does not need special client software. This speaks to the continuing usefulness of Flash in the computing ecosystem. Flash isn’t always about creating garish web sites!

  18. Vex

    I will not play with this at work. I will not play with this at work. I will not play with this at work.

    That’s it, I’m calling in sick….

  19. Daniel J. Andrews

    He says he traveled with his retired father. That makes the trip all the more special. I did a 6 week tour of parts of the U.S. and Canada with my dad, and we had a wonderful time. My mom tells me dad still talks about it, and when the inevitable happens to my folks, that trip with my dad will warm my memories greatly.

    Great job, Nick, and well done! (and I’m not just talking about the interactive photo either).

  20. This is the most awesome thing I’ve seen. Got my kids hooked too. So much work must’ve gone into this but it is so simple for them to use.

  21. flip

    Annoying that there’s no where on the site to leave comments. So I’ll leave mine here:

    That is SO amazing. I’m impressed by the amount of work that went into it. Not just taking panoramic shots, but then the interactive version. The ability to turn on/off constellations/stars/planets had me even more impressed, until my mind was blown by the small galaxy in the corner which showed the field of view in relation to Earth and the galaxy. The amount of time and effort that goes into making something like this… well, it’s just worth a big thumbs up!

    One small thing I would have done was included a key: the green line I presume is the ecliptic? Even though I could guess this myself, a key would help those less astronomy-educated.


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