Imagine a picture of the sky so big that it would take 500,000 high-definition TVs to view it at full resolution.
The Sloan Digital Sky Survey III collaboration, which includes Vanderbilt University, is making just such an image available to the public. The color image contains more than a trillion pixels and covers about one-third of the entire sky. The digital data included in the image was collected during the past decade by a dedicated telescope at the Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico.
SDSS astronomers have already used this information to discover nearly a half-billion astronomical objects, including asteroids, stars, galaxies and distant quasars. Now the scientists are making the data available to the public so that students, amateur astronomers, and anyone else who is interested can analyze it and make additional discoveries.
“This data release is part of SDSS’ efforts to encourage public involvement in science,” says Andreas Berlind, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Vanderbilt.
The image being released is one part of the project that has documented the location, brightness, size and color of billions of celestial objects, including about 100 million galaxies. The second part of the project involves splitting the light down into different colors and analyzing the resulting spectra coming from individual objects. This allows SDSS astronomers to estimate each object’s distance so they can construct a three-dimensional map of the visible universe. They have used this spectrographic technique to measure the distance of a million galaxies that lie within a billion light years from Earth. The SDSS telescope’s imaging system has been upgraded and is now being used to measure the distance of another 1.5 million galaxies that are much further away, at distances up to 5 billion light years.
Berlind and fellow astronomers Assistant Professor Kelly Holley-Bockelmann, Professor David Weintraub, and Associate Professor Keivan Stassun are using the new data in their research projects. Berlind is studying the distribution of the most distant galaxies in order to learn more about the process of galaxy evolution. Holley-Bockelmann is focusing on the structure and history of our own Milky Way galaxy. Stassun and Weintraub are exploring methods to identify the types of stars most likely to possess exoplanets.
Click here to view images and read more about the project.
© 2014 Vanderbilt University | Photography: Daniel Dubois
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