ESO's GigaGalaxy Zoom: The Sky, from Eye to Telescope
Through three giant images, the GigaGalaxy Zoom project reveals the full sky as it appears with the unaided eye from one of the darkest deserts on Earth, then zooms in on a rich region of the Milky Way using a hobby telescope, and finally uses the power of a professional telescope to reveal the details of an iconic nebula.
In the framework of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA2009) ESO's GigaGalaxy Zoom project aimed at connecting the sky as seen by the unaided eye with that seen by hobby and professional astronomers. The project reveals three amazing, ultra-high-resolution images of the night sky that online stargazers can zoom in on and explore in an incredible level of detail.
The GigaGalaxy Zoom project thus illustrates the vision of IYA2009, which is to help people rediscover their place in the Universe through the day- and night-time sky.
Most of the photographs comprising the three images were taken from two of ESO's observing sites in Chile, La Silla and Paranal. The wonderful quality of the images is a testament to the splendour of the night sky at these ESO sites, which are the most productive astronomical observatories in the world.
The renowned astrophotographers Serge Brunier and Stéphane Guisard, who are members of the The World at Night (TWAN) IYA2009 project, captured two of the GigaGalaxy Zoom images.
The first image by Brunier aims to present the sky as people have experienced it the world over, though in the far greater detail offered by top-notch stargazing conditions and with the view from both hemispheres. As such, the image provides a magnificent 800-million pixel panorama of the whole Milky Way.
Guisard, an ESO engineer, made the second image of a smaller area of the sky, containing 400 million pixels, using a hobby telescope at Paranal. This second image directly benefits from the quality of Paranal's sky, one of the best on the planet, and from his professional expertise as an optical engineer specialising in telescopes, a unique combination in the world of astrophotographers. This second image will be released on 14 September 2009.
The third GigaGalaxy Zoom image illustrates the power of professional astronomy. It covers a one-degree field of view and was obtained with the Wide Field Imager attached to the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at La Silla. This camera has already created several of the most iconic pictures produced by ESO. The third image will be released on 21 September 2009.
With GigaGalaxy Zoom, users can learn more about the many different exciting objects in the three images, such as multicoloured nebulae and exploding stars, just by clicking on them. They can also delve into the starscapes using a "zoomify" tool and download the images. After all three images have been unveiled, the public will be able to explore a magnificently detailed cosmic environment at many scales. The reward is the most breathtaking dive ever made into our Galaxy, linking the sky seen by all with the cosmos studied by astronomers.
ESO and the IYA2009
As part of the IYA2009, ESO is participating in several outstanding outreach activities, in line with its world-leading rank in the field of astronomy. ESO is hosting the IYA2009 Secretariat for the International Astronomical Union, which coordinates the Year globally. ESO is one of the Organisational Associates of IYA2009, and was also closely involved in the resolution submitted to the United Nations (UN) by Italy, which led to the UN’s 62nd General Assembly proclaiming 2009 the International Year of Astronomy. In addition to a wide array of activities planned both at the local and international level, ESO is leading three of the eleven global Cornerstone Projects.
ESO, the European Southern Observatory, is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world's most productive astronomical observatory. It is supported by 14 countries: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory. ESO is the European partner of a revolutionary astronomical telescope ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. ESO is currently planning a 42-metre European Extremely Large optical/near-infrared Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become "the world's biggest eye on the sky".