Gigagalaxy Zoom!

The Milky Way is a mysterious swath of darkness and light through the night sky. In places where light pollution is low enough to see it, its beauty is unmistakable.

Well, the above image is what you might see with your naked eye. But even a small telescope can get you so much more. The darkest skies, with your naked eye, can provide you with the opportunity to see a few thousand stars.

But get yourself a small telescope? You're talking about tens of millions of stars, almost instantly. A small telescope, taking a large number of pictures and stitching them together, produced this image of a section of the Milky Way, which is today's Astronomy Picture of the Day.

But where did this picture come from? Well, a number of contributors got together and started the Gigagalaxy Zoom project, where you can take a region of the Milky Way of your choosing and just zoom on in, enjoying the beauty and wonder of it all.

So I did, and I thought I'd share some of my favorite finds with you. You can, of course, click my images to see them full-size, or go to the Gigagalaxy Zoom page and play around on your own!

See the image above? That's zoomed in to an area about 2% of the previous image before it. Simply stunning, of course. But we can zoom in even farther...

And although this is the limit for this region, there are a few select regions of the galactic plane that are imaged at particularly high quality. Here's a shot of the snake nebula, which is only a couple of degrees away from the zoomed in image above:

Even though I'm a cosmologist, and I mostly think about the largest scales on the Universe, I don't need to leave our galaxy to feel small. Every point of light in this image is a Sun, massive and complicated, with its own star system and its own satellites to worry about. And there are literally thousands to millions of them in just these small images I've posted here.

So what are you still doing over here? Go! Go play! But come back and share your favorite find with all of us!

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And the geometric center of it all... is... me!

I've never been able to see the Milky Way, how far out of a city do you actually have to go to see it? I only live in a small town but still never seen it.

Go to cleardarksky.com and find the light pollution map for your area, and it will tell you where to see the Milky Way.

I grew up with the Milky Way in my sky, and it always seems wrong to go outside, now that I'm in the city, and not be able to see it

Shouldn't that last picture be called the snake-that-swallowed-two-mice nebula?

(So much for precision in astronomical terminology!)

By Pierce R. Butler (not verified) on 25 Sep 2009 #permalink

And although this is the limit for this region, there are a few select regions of the galactic plane that are imaged at particularly high quality. Here's a shot of the snake nebula, which is only a couple of degrees away from the zoomed in image above:

thank you

what a beautiful way to start the day. Hopefully the clouds have broken and I'll get another look at Venus all the way in to work..