The Milky Way as never seen before with 84 million stars

A nine billion pixel photograph of the Milky Way captured by the VISTA survey telescope at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile. Credit: ESO/VVV Consortium/Ignacio Toledo

A spectacular new nine-gigapixel image of the Milky Way captures 84 million stars in the galaxy - more than 10 times the amount previously seen.

Captured by the VISTA infrared survey telescope at European Space Observatory’s Paranal Observatory in Chile, the image would be 9 metres long and 7 metres tall if it were printed with the resolution of a typical book.

It was described by the observatory as "a major step forward for the understanding of our home galaxy."

By observing in detail the myriads of stars surrounding the centre of the Milky Way we can learn a lot more about the formation and evolution of not only our galaxy, but also spiral galaxies in general.

The new colour–magnitude diagram of the bulge revealed that there are a large number of faint red dwarf stars., which are prime candidates around which to search for small extrasolar planets, i.e. planets outside the Solar System.

An infrared view of the Milky Way bulge that is labelled to show a selection of the many nebulae and clusters in this part of the sky. Credit: ESO/VVV Consortium/Ignacio Toledo

The team used data from the VISTA Variables in the Via Lactea programme - one of six public surveys carried out with VISTA - to compile one of the biggest astronomical images ever produced.