12-year astrophotography mosaic of the Milky Way

It took 13 years for the Voyager 1 to take the iconic Pale Blue Dot image, which was part of a mosaic of the solar system. The best observation of the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation, by the Planck Mission, took more than 4 years. The Hubble Space Telescope’s deep fields can take days observing distant galaxies.

That’s astronomy — many observations take a lot of time; months, even years. Many of these ‘big’ space missions take years and included hundreds of members. From project to launching and publishing, a single project can include over 1,000 people.

For astrophotographers, it’s much rarer to spend this much time on a single project, and there’s often a single photographer or a small team working. In an area with low light pollution, with a good camera in 30 seconds you even get the job done. This type of photo, with the galaxy with a city, over a tree, and even Milky Way with Aurora Borealis is becoming increasingly common.

However, a jaw-dropping amount of hard work spent can also be spent on astronomical photography. Such an example recently came from one astrophotographer, J-P Metsavainio, a Finnish artist who provides images for NASA, National Geographic, and other big groups.

He spent 1,250 hours of his life in the city of Oulu in Finland to make a mosaic of the Milky Way. He adapted his gears to shoot the image, which includes, a camera, a telescope, and other sorts of paraphernalia as you can imagine.

Credits: J-P Metsavainio

It took almost twelve years to finalize this mosaic image. The reason for a long time period is naturally the size of the mosaic and the fact, that image is very deep. Another reason is that I have shot most of the mosaic frames as an individual compositions and publish them as independent artworks. That leads to a kind of complex image set witch is partly overlapping with a lots of unimaged areas between and around frames. I have shot the missing data now and then during the years and last year I was able to publish many sub mosaic images as I got them ready first.

Added Metsavainio in his blog.

The result was a giant 1.7-gigapixel mosaic — to get a scale of how big that is, some iPhones have a 12-megapixel camera. Such a gigantic picture can show us part of our galaxy going from the Taurus to the Cygnus constellations. Here’s the photograph superimposed on the night sky. 

Credits: J-P Metsavainio

What’s even more impressive is the amount of detail from objects lying in that region. The most impressive one is the supernova remnant W63. It took 60 exposure hours to observe this object. Other remnants were observed, and also nebulae.

Credits: J-P Metsavainio

This hard work also involved placing each observation on the correct position by consulting a sky map. An incredibly detailed result for a single-person job. Not so different from astronomers from the past, like William Herschel (with help from his sister), who built a telescope themselves to collect data.  Dedication like this requires a lot of patience leaving a difficult challenge for another astrophotographer who plans to overcome Metsavainio.


For more images visit Metsavainio’s blog.

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