Penn State scientists are part of a team that released the largest ever digital color photo of the sky this week.
The image is part of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey III, which gives astronomers the most comprehensive view of the night sky ever made. Since 1998, a specially built telescope with a digital camera has been scanning the night sky from an observatory in New Mexico. It took millions of 2.8-megapixel images, which have now been combined into an image of more than a trillion pixels.
Donald Schneider, an astronomy professor at Penn State who helped coordinate the project, said the data from the survey have led to thousands of scientific publications and the identification of countless new celestial bodies.
“In a hundred years, astronomy textbooks will note this as one of the great advances forward,” Schneider said.
For example, the data confirmed that the Milky Way is still “eating” other galaxies, or pulling the stars away from eachother and into the Milky Way.
The image is now free to the public.
“It presents a tremendous archive, and now anyone can use it,” Schneider said. “If you’re fascinated and want to find an asteroid to name after yourself, you can load it onto your computer and start looking.”
The telescope that took the pictures will be retired to the Smithsonian. The image is now being used as the basis for a 3-D map of the galaxy.