The spectacular photo was released on March 28. According to Physorg.com
, the image combines data of the Milky Way taken using different instruments: data from the UKIDSS/GPS sky survey taken by the UK Infrared Telescope in Hawaii, and data from the VVV survey taken by the VISTA telescope in Chile.
reports the photo is the outcome of a 10-year project gathering data for future research studies and involved astronomers from UK and Chile gathering data that was processed and archived by teams at the Universities of Edinburgh and Cambridge. The archived information according to BBC
, is known as the Vista Data Flow System.
reports the photo shows a cross section through the disk of the Milky Way from the perspective of an observer on Earth. Our solar system is located close to the edge of the Milky Way.
The image shows much of the Milky Way ordinarily obscured in dust because it was taken in infrared. Taking the image in infrared allows astronomers to observe the details of the center of the galaxy, revealing large scale structures such as active regions of the galaxy where new stars are forming.
Nick Cross of the University of Edinburgh's school of physics and astronomy, who was involved in the project, said in a statement: "This incredible image gives us a new perspective of our galaxy, and illustrates the far-reaching discoveries we can make from large sky surveys. Having data processed, archived and published by dedicated teams leaves other scientists free to concentrate on using the data, and is a very cost-effective way to do astronomy."
reports Cross explains the significance of the image to future research studies: "It will help us really understand the true nature of our galaxy, to see where everything is. Some researchers will use it to find star forming regions; there'll be lots of these along the plane of the galaxy. Finding globular clusters will be another use. These are groups of very old stars that formed right at the beginning of the galaxy. We can study their distribution in this image and that tells us something about how the Milky Way started off. And it will be particularly useful to study anything that is extended. Here you can look at things on the large scale, to understand how they are related to each other; to look at things that might be across multiple images in a catalogue. These are the big objects like clusters, and nebulae - the gas clouds where stars are forming."
While the new image captures about 1 billion stars, astronomers have estimated that our Milky Way galaxy contains about 100 billion stars, and some estimate the number of stars as high as 400 billion. Thus the image though remarkable, is still far from giving us complete view of the Milky Way.
reports the image was presented at the National Astronomy Meeting
An online interactive tool that allows the user to zoom-in on any section of the 1 billion star image can be accessed here