Photopic Sky Survey: See stars like never before

Take a peek at a mesmerizingly clear 360-degree, 5-gigapixel image of the night sky.

The largest true-color all-sky survey ever created. (Click to enlarge.) Nick Risinger/skysurvey.org

Space: the final frontier. This is the voyage of two men--father and son--who traveled the globe to capture the night sky like never before.

The recently completed Photopic Sky Survey is one of the most ambitious true-color glamour shots of the universe ever created, detailing countless galaxies and hundreds of millions of stars within. Capturing the 5-gigapixel (5,000 megapixel) image was a painstaking effort for Nick Risinger, the creator of the project, who stitched together 37,440 exposures to create the final shot. The breathtaking panorama is also the result of some serious globe-trotting, as he set off on a "45,000 miles by air and 15,000 by land" journey with his retired father, visiting most of the western states in the U.S., as well as the Cape of South Africa.

Nick Risinger prepares an array of cameras in Colorado before another long night of shooting. Photopic Sky Survey

With the navigational help of a computer to ensure accuracy, Risinger broke the sky down into 624 areas (each 12 degrees wide) and specifically captured each portion through 60 exposures. Four short, medium, and long shots with each camera were taken to help reduce noise, satellite trails, and other inaccuracies. Some serious hardware was used in the survey:

Cameras: Finger Lakes ML-8300 monochrome
Lenses: Zeiss Sonnar 85mm f2.8
Filters: Astronomik LRGB, Astrodon Ha
Mount: Takahashi EM-11 Temma 2 with custom armature
Generator: Yamaha EF1000iS for U.S. trips
Laptop: Intel Core i7-820QM running Linux Fedora, 8GB RAM with 4TB external storage

Aside from incredible logistical challenges, other complications arose during the process. Certain celestial objects that are visible in the Northern Hemisphere may not be in the southern half. Fierce winter weather, complicated moon cycles, and differences in visibility during seasons also made for very short windows of optical opportunity. Seven different programs, including MaximDL, Scamp, Swarp, and others were needed to capture and post-produce the thousands of images.

Click here to view an interactive, 360-degree view of the Photopic Sky Survey. You can purchase enormous prints of the Photopic Sky Survey on the official Web site, ranging from $200-$500.

 

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