Ok, have a look at this image — if you click on it, it gets really, really big:
That's our Milky Way. The image below here represents the material within the white square on the left — a star-forming region called G305 to astronomers and astrophysicists — again, a click makes it bigger:
That cutaway image above? Only ten thousand stars. SLACKERS! (Of course I jest)
Scientists from the UK, Chile, and Europe have created the initial 150 billion pixel image by combining ten years' worth of data into a monster survey of the Milky Way region. From the University of Edinburgh website:
Astronomers have today released a picture containing more than one billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy. It combines data from two near-infrared1 telescopes – the UK Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) in Hawaii and the VISTA telescope in Chile - and is the result of a decade-long collaboration by astronomers at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Cambridge to process, archive and publish the prodigious quantities of sky survey data generated by these two telescopes.
Dr Phil Lucas from the University of Hertfordshire leads the UKIRT study of the Milky Way, and co-leads the VISTA study. He said: “The combined data on over a billion stars represent a scientific legacy that will be exploited for decades in many different ways. They provide a three-dimensional view of the structure of our spiral galaxy, the Milky Way, while also mapping several hundred nebulae where stars are being born. The VISTA data, in particular, is breaking new ground by showing how several hundred million stars vary in brightness over time."
The full image contains 150 billion pixels, and the detail it contains is only revealed by the three zoom levels, centred on G305, a large and complex star-formation region: the innermost zoom covers a tiny fraction of the full image, but still contains more than ten thousand stars.
Presenting the image at the UK-German National Astronomy Meeting in Manchester, Dr Nick Cross of the University of Edinburgh said: “This remarkable image is only one of the many outputs from the VISTA Data Flow System (VDFS) project2. VDFS data is being used by astronomers around the world and has led to great discoveries in many fields of astronomy, from the coolest known stars to the most distant quasars.”
Something pretty cool: you can view the monster image with a custom viewer at the University of Edinburgh's website. You have to check this out, it is amazing.