How many stars can you count when you look up at Clear night sky? Not nearly as good as Chile’s Dark Energy Camera. Scientists have released a survey of a part of our galaxy, the Milky Way, which contains 3.32 billion celestial bodies, including billions of stars.
The National Science Foundation’s National Research Laboratory for Optical and Infrared Astronomy (NOIRLab) is working on DECam as part of an observatory project in Chile. The new astronomical data set is the second version of the Dark Energy Camera Plane Survey (DECaPS2). NOIRLab called it “arguably the largest catalog compiled to date” in a statement released Wednesday.
Casual viewers can enjoy NOIRLab’s smaller, more accurate version of the survey that gives a comprehensive overview. For those who like to dive into the details, this web viewer lets you dig deeper into the data.
This broad band of the Milky Way contains billions of celestial objects as part of the Dark Energy Camera’s jet survey.
DECaPS2 / DOE / FNAL / DECam / CTIO / NOIRLab / NSF / AURA / M. Zamani and De Martin (NSF’s NOIRLab)-
The camera used optical and near-infrared wavelengths of light to detect stars, star-forming regions, and clouds of gas and dust. “Imagine a group photo of more than 3 billion people and each individual can be recognised,” said NSF’s Debra Fisher. “Astronomers will look at this detailed picture of more than 3 billion stars in the Milky Way for decades to come.”--
The scan looks at the disk of the Milky Way, which appears as a bright band running the length of the image. It is full of stars and dust. There is so much going on that it can be hard to pin down. The stars overlap. Dust hides the stars. It took careful data processing to sort everything out.
“One of the main reasons for the success of DECaPS2 is that we simply pointed to a region with a very high density of stars, and were careful to identify the sources that appear almost on top of each other,” said a Harvard-educated researcher. Andrew Sedgary, lead author of a paper on the survey published in The Astrophysical Journal this week.
Several billion stars may seem like a bonkers number, but they are just a small drop in the galactic bucket. NASA estimates there are at least 100 billion stars in the Milky Way. The new survey covers only 6.5% of the night sky as seen from the Southern Hemisphere.
DECaPS2 was an epic multi-year project consisting of 21,400 individual exposures and 10 terabytes of data. NOIRLab described the survey as a fitting “giant astronomical data tapestry”. We’ve never seen the Milky Way like this before. He is beautiful and he is humble.