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What is the Giga Galaxy Zoom Project?

written by: George Garza•edited by: George Adcock•updated: 6/16/2011

The Giga Galaxy Zoom Project is an astro-photographic project which captures the Milky Way panorama in extremely fine detail. It presents three images that would be seen by ordinary observers and allows them to zoom in on the rich detail. The photographs have hundreds of millions of pixels.

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    What is the Giga Galaxy Zoom Project?

    Take three sample photographs from the darkest sky on planet Earth. One as seen with the unaided eye. the second zooms in with a hobby telescope, and the third uses a professional astronomy scope. The rich detail that emerges from "zooming" in on a section of the sky is what the Giga Galaxy Zoom project is about.

    Pick any object in the sky and then zoom in. Curious onlookers, amateur astronomers, or professonal astronomers can look at different sections of the sky and see a clear and spectacular image of the sky. You will find images that are extremely detailed in their view; up to several hundred million pixels in depth.

    There are three images at this time that make up the project. The Milky Way Panorama, the Center of the Milky Way, and the Lagoon Nebula.

    You can read more about the variety of instruments that are used for space exploration.

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    How are the Giga Galaxy Photo Images Different than Normal Images?

    The level of detail of the pictures in this project is different from the usual astronomical photos. Hundreds of millions of pixels make up the photographs. In an ordinary picture, a detailed photo may contain a thousand pixels, not a hundred million.

    By way of comparison, how are the Giga Galaxy images different from normal images? As a basic rule consider the following list of pixels per picture to get an idea of the various qualities produced:


    The list shows the limited range of pixels required to produce good quality images. But the ESO images are hundreds of times more detailed.

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    What is the ESO?

    The ESO Headquarters is in Garching, Munich. ESO provides astronomical research facilities to astronomers. It is supported by a confederation of European contries: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.


    It operates three astronomical sites in Chile — La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. The reason for this location is that they are on top of the Andes mountains, and with high air quality and low surface pollution, the images are very clear. It builds a telescope, ALMA, together with international partners, and it will design the European Extremely Large Telescope(E-ELT).

    Who is responsible for the images? Astrophotographer Serge Brunier and Frédéric Tapissier joined forces with ESO staff to create the Giga Galaxy Zoom project.

    See the Brighthub article, ESO: European Southern Observatory, for additional details.

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    Image #1: The Milky Way Panorama

    This next image was created from almost 1,200 photos, taken by astrophotographer Serge Brunier with a regular digital camera from ESO observatories at La Silla and Paranal in Chile and from one of the Canary Islands. The images were combined together over 300 hours using special software to generate the final image.

    The Constellations in the Milky Way Panorama 

    Note: The images here and below in no way resemble the detail of the images in the Giga Galaxy Zoom project.

    See References for access to the actual images.

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    Image Number 2: Towards the Galactic Center

    To image the central region of the Milky Way 52 different sky fields were used from about 1200 individual images, taken over 200 hours of exposure time. The final image has a size of 340 million pixels.

    Image #2: The Center of the Milky Way 

    The details of the Milky Way image

    The region spans the sky from Sagittarius to Scorpius. The image contains the Lagoon and the Trifid Nebulae, as well as NGC 6357 and NGC 6334. This dark lane also includes the very center of our Galaxy, where a supermassive black hole is believed to exist.

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    Image #3: The Lagoon Nebula

    Total Size: 370 million pixels

    Imager: 2.2 meter telescope with 67 million pixel wide field imager

    Size of the image: 1.5 square degrees [8 times larter than the Full Moon]

    Location where image taken: La Silla observatory Chile

    Image #3: The Lagoon Nebula 

    Facts about the Lagoon Nebula:

    Distance from the Sun: 4-5,000 light-years.

    Size: 100 light-years across.

    Astronomical data: location where stars are forming: dust and gas clouds collapsing under their own weight to form stars. NGC 6530 is in the area and contains between 50 - 100 stars.

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    • Source: The European Southern Observatory
    • To view the GigaGalaxy images go to GigaGalaxyZoom.
    • What is ESO: Image Credit Eso Observatory
    • Image #1:The Milky Way Panorama Credit: ESO top 100 Images #17
    • Image Number 2: Towards the Galactic Center: Credit: ESO Top 100 Images #4
    • Image #3: The Lagoon Nebula: Credit: ESO Top 100 Images #16

    To learn more about how pixels affect the detail on pictures, see How Many Pixels do I need?

Modern Telescopes on Earth and in Space

In this series of articles we look at the changes in telescope design and what information they provide about astronomical objects.
  1. The Gran Telescopio
  2. BOSS, the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey – looking for dark energy
  3. What is the Giga Galaxy Zoom Project?
  4. GREGOR and the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope ATST, New Terrestrial Solar Telescopes