World's Largest Milky Way Image Unveiled
A section of the largest image of the Milky Way ever created. It was stitched together from 800,000 individual infrared images taken by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Wisconsin

The world?s largest picture of the Milky Way, taken by NASA?s Spitzer Space Telescope, is being unveiled today at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.

The new image is of galactic proportions, covering an area that is 120 feet (37 meters) long, 3 feet (1 meter) tall at its sides and 6 feet (2 meters) tall in the middle, where our galaxy's central bulge is depicted.

The panorama represents the combined effort of two Spitzer survey teams, who used two of the telescope's onboard instruments, the Infrared Array Camera (IRAC) and the Multiband Imaging Photometer.

The large image was made from stitching together 800,000 individual pictures taken by Spitzer, for a total of 2.5 billion infrared pixels. It covers an area of the sky about as wide as a pointer finger and as long as the length of arms outstretched, which might sound small, but covers about half of the entire galaxy, says Robert Hurt, of the Spitzer Science Center at Caltech.

"This is the highest-resolution, largest, most sensitive infrared picture ever taken of our Milky Way," said Sean Carey of the Spitzer Science Center, who led one of the teams that created the image.

"I suspect that Spitzer's view of the galaxy is the best that we'll have for the foreseeable future. There is currently no mission planned that has both a wide field of view and the sensitivity needed to probe the Milky Way at these infrared wavelengths," said Barbara Whitney of the Space Science Institute in Madison, Wis., also part of one of the Spitzer teams.

The image is set to be unveiled by the scientists who created it at 3 p.m. EST at Chicago's Adler Planetarium.