A team of scientists from the Ruhr-Universität Bochum have compiled the largest astronomical image of all time. The stunning vista is comprised of an impressive 46 billion pixels, and is so large that the researchers have provided a special online tool in order to allow viewers to take in the cosmic scene.

The online tool allows viewers to observe and zoom in on stunning aspects of the Milky Way in incredible detail. Users can also search for objects such as stars and nebulae via the input box on the lower left of the screen, while being provided with a coordinates and mini map to keep them aware of exactly where they are in the huge image.

Section of the mosaic displaying the M8 nebula(Credit: Lehrstuhl für Astrophysik, RUB)

The constituent pieces of the image were captured over the course of a five-year imaging campaign carried out by the Ruhr-Universität Bochum researchers as they attempted to create a catalogue of celestial objects with variable brightness, such as a star when an exoplanets crosses its stellar disk.

By using telescopes based in Chile's Atacama desert to shoot the same patches of the southern sky repeatedly over several days, the team was able to capture and document 50,000 new variable objects. The astronomers took several weeks to calculate and combine 268 of the images in order to create the vast 194-gigabyte galactic mosaic.

You can take a look at the huge composite image via the online tool, courtesy of Ruhr-Universität Bochum

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