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    GigaGalaxy Zoom - An Amateur Telescope Look At The Milky Way
    By News Staff | September 22nd 2009 12:00 AM | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    Stéphane Guisard, world-renowned astrophotographer and ESO engineer, has created a  340-million-pixel, 34 by 20-degree wide image from Paranal, the site of the Very Large Telescope, as it looks through an amateur telescope.

    Guisard is head of the optical engineering team at Paranal.

    To create this true-color mosaic of the Galactic Centre region, Guisard assembled about 1200 individual images, totalling more than 200 hours of exposure time, collected over 29 nights, during Guisard's free time, while working during the day at Paranal. 

    The image shows the region spanning the sky from the constellation of Sagittarius (the Archer) to Scorpius (the Scorpion). The very colourful Rho Ophiuchi and Antares region is a prominent feature to the right, although much darker areas, such as the Pipe and Snake nebulae also stand out. The dusty lane of our Milky Way runs obliquely through the image, dotted with remarkable bright, reddish nebulae, such as the Lagoon and the Trifid Nebulae, as well as NGC 6357 and NGC 6334. This dark lane also hosts the very centre of our Galaxy, where a supermassive black hole is lurking.

    340-million pixel starscape from Paranal
    340-million-pixel vista of the central parts of the Milky Way, a 34 by 20-degree wide image.  Want it full size?   Stéphane Guisard did this at night on his free time and he retains the rights to it so you have to go through him.   Credit: ESO/S. Guisard

    "The area I have depicted in this image is an incredibly rich region of the sky, and the one I find most beautiful," said Guisard.

    This starscape is the second of three extremely high resolution images featured in the GigaGalaxy Zoom project, launched by ESO as part of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA2009).

    The project allows stargazers to explore and experience the Universe as it is seen with the unaided eye from the darkest and best viewing locations in the world. GigaGalaxy Zoom features a web tool that allows users to take a breathtaking dive into our Milky Way. With this tool users can learn more about many different and exciting objects in the image, such as multicolored nebulae and exploding stars, just by clicking on them.

    In this way, the project seeks to link the sky we can all see with the deep, "hidden" cosmos that astronomers study on a daily basis. The wonderful quality of the images is a testament to the splendour of the night sky at ESO's sites in Chile, which are the most productive astronomical observatories in the world. 

    The image was obtained from Cerro Paranal, home of ESO's Very Large Telescope, by observing with a 10-cm Takahashi FSQ106Ed f/3.6 telescope and a SBIG STL CCD camera, using a NJP160 mount. The images were collected through three different filters (B, V and R) and then stitched together. This mosaic was assembled from 52 different sky fields made from about 1200 individual images totalling 200 hours exposure time, with the final image having a size of 24,403 x 13,973 pixels.

    The third GigaGalaxy Zoom image will be revealed next week, on September 28th, 2009.