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Adler Unveils Giganto Milky Way Image

By Prescott Carlson in Miscellaneous on Dec 2, 2009 10:20PM

The full mosaic, reduced by a kajillion (estimated) percent. Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

The space geeks among us at the Chicagoist offices are eager to head over to the Adler Planetarium to check out a new mosaic image of the Milky Way, being unveiled today. We've all seen pictures of our galaxy before, but not like this -- the image is made up of 800,000 individual pictures stitched together, and is comprised of 2.5 billion pixels. Measuring 4 feet high and 180 feet long, it's the most detailed picture of our galaxy in existence, and it is now permanently on display in the lower level of the Adler outside the Definiti Space Theater.

The images were captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope in infrared, highlighting things like space dust and organic molecules that can't be seen by the human eye. Over 50 astronomers worked on the image through a combination of two legacy projects -- GLIMPSE and MIPSGAL -- and it captures almost half of the entire Milky Way. As Phil Plait, astronomer and creator of the Bad Astronomy blog points out, the end result is more than just a pretty picture:

This sort of image is more than a stunt; big, splashy surveys like this give us a grand overview of the galaxy. Telescopes like Spitzer, Hubble, Chandra, and so on usually get very deep, very detailed images, but of only a tiny fraction of the sky. By taking all these images and stitching them together, we get an overview of the galaxy that can be used to do statistical searches, look for populations of objects, and perhaps most importantly, get context for objects to see what kind of environment they sit in.

Can't make it down to the Adler? You can also view an interactive version of the mosaic online.