October 31, 2009

Majestic Panorama of the Milky Way Galaxy

Physicist Axel Mellinger, a professor at Central Michigan University, has created a giant, high resolution, panorama of the Milky Way galaxy. It's resolution clearly shows stars that are up to a 1000 times fainter than the limit of the human eye, and also reveals galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae.

Creating the Image

Mellinger collected 3000 photographs that he captured over a period of 22 months and using dark locations in South Africa, Texas, and Michigan. But the work did not end just there. Mellinger had to piece together every image to create the big image.

Piecing together the image was not easy. Every picture was slightly distorted because it captured the spherical sky onto a two dimensional projection. Then each image of the night sky had to be merged together to form a flat final picture. Mapmakers face the same problem when trying to create a two dimensional map of the round Earth. Mellinger conquered the problem by using a mathematical model and a computer.

Mellinger also solved the problem of dealing with differing background light in each photograph. Leaving the background light as photographed would yield a final picture with a nonuniform and uneven background. Utilizing data from the Pioneer 10 and 11 space probes, Mellinger was able to figure out whether each point of light was from a star or background light.


The final image is a spectacular view of the Milky Way, one that nobody on Earth could see from one location. This is why Mellinger had to capture the images from locations in both the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere. The great resolution (648 megapixels) will benefit both education and science. Mellinger is also going make the big image available to planetariums. He has also put up an interactive Mercator projection online.

Image: Axel Mellinger

Astronomy and Space Celebrates International Year of Astronomy 2009.


  1. can someone please tell me how far the moon is from the earth

  2. 384,399 km from the center of the Earth to the center of the Moon.