Never one to be outdone in the pretty picture stakes, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) has released an interactive, 360-degree panoramic view of the entire night sky.
GigaGalaxy Zoom shows the plane of the Milky Way running across an 800-million-pixel panorama of the entire sky as seen from ESO’s observing sites in Chile.
Users can zoom in on any feature in the night sky just by clicking on it, to see planets in closeup, such as this image of Jupiter.
Zooming further, dramatic images of nebulae become visible, such as this image of the Carina Nebula - which also starred (yes, pun intended) in NASA's latest batch of photos last week.
The project is a collaboration between ESO, the French writer and astrophotographer Serge Brunier and his fellow Frenchman Frédéric Tapissier. Brunier spent several weeks between August 2008 and February 2009 capturing the sky, mostly from ESO observatories at La Silla and Paranal in Chile.
The raw photographs were processed by Tapissier and ESO experts to produce an image composed of almost 300 fields, each captured four times, adding up to nearly 1,200 photos that encompass the entire night sky.
“I wanted to show a sky that everyone can relate to — with its constellations, its thousands of stars, with names familiar since childhood, its myths shared by all civilisations since Homo became Sapiens,” said Brunier.
“The vision of the IYA2009 is to help people rediscover their place in the Universe through the day- and night-time sky, and this is exactly what the GigaGalaxy Zoom project is all about,” says the appropriately-named project coordinator Henri Boffin.
GigaGalaxy Zoom is on ESO's website, here.