London: The GigaGalaxy Zoom project has captured a mind-boggling, magnificent, 800-million-pixel panoramic view of the vast glittering sky. This 360-degree starscape, covering the entire celestial sphere, reveals the cosmic landscape that surrounds our tiny blue planet.
This staggering panorama serves as the first of three extremely high-resolution images featured in the project, launched by European Organisation for Astronomical Research (ESO).
The project allows star gazers to explore and experience the universe as it is seen with the unaided eye from the darkest and best viewing locations in the world.
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, such as multicoloured nebulae and exploding stars, just by clicking on them.
In this way, the project seeks to link the sky we can all see with the deep, "hidden" cosmos that astronomers study on a daily basis.
The projection used in GigaGalaxy Zoom places the viewer in front of our galaxy with the galactic plane running horizontally through the image -- almost as if we were looking at the Milky Way from the outside.
From this vantage point, the general components of our spiral galaxy come clearly into view, including its disc, marbled with both dark and glowing nebulae, which harbours bright, young stars, as well as the galaxy`s central bulge and its satellite galaxies.
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 Frederic Tapissier.
Brunier spent several weeks between August 2008 and February 2009 capturing the sky, mostly from ESO observatories in Chile.
The resulting image, now available on GigaGalaxy Zoom, is composed of almost 300 fields each individually captured by Brunier four times, adding up to nearly 1,200 photos that encompass the entire night sky.
"I wanted to show a sky that everyone can relate to -- with its constellations, its thousands of stars, with names familiar since childhood, its myths shared by all civilizations," says Brunier.
"The image was therefore made as man sees it, with a regular digital camera under the dark skies in the Atacama Desert and on La Palma."
The second dramatic GigaGalaxy Zoom image will be unveiled Sep 21.