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This Stunning Photo of the Milky Way Could Carpet An Entire Apartment

A beautiful, zoomable, nine-gixapixel photo of the central Milky Way

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Click to embiggen. (Caution: 9-gigapixel images come with some loading time) Photo: ESO / VISTA

From a rocky mountain at the heart of Chile’s Atacama desert, scientists used the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy‘s (VISTA) massive 4.1 meter-wide mirror to capture the above image of the central Milky Way galaxy, pinpointing more than 84 million stars in the most detailed survey of its type.

The image, captured by looking at the infrared light streaming from the heart of our home galaxy, says the European Southern Observatory, “would be 9 metres long and 7 metres tall” if printed out at a typical print resolution. Or, in way more fun terms, if printed as a carpet, this gorgeous view could cover the floor of a 675-square foot apartment.

As Skymania‘s Paul Sutherland points out, there was of course a scientific purpose to putting together this whopping nine-gigapixel image.

Cataloguing the many millions of stars in this one small central region of the Milky Way will help scientists understand more clearly what lies at the centre of our galaxy and how it developed.

Chile’s Roberto Saito, who led the study, said: “By observing in detail the myriads of stars surrounding the centre of the Milky Way we can learn a lot more about the formation and evolution of not only our galaxy, but also spiral galaxies in general.”

That, and it’s really, really pretty.

More from Smithsonian.com:
Gigapixel Camera Takes 11-Foot Wide Photos in 0.01 Seconds
When Galaxies Collide: The Fate of the Milky Way

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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