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Wow! This incredible image of the Milky Way took 12 years to create

A section of the 1.7-gigapixel image of the Milky Way created by Finnish astrophotographer J-P Metsavainio.
A section of the 1.7-gigapixel image of the Milky Way created by Finnish astrophotographer J-P Metsavainio. (Image credit: J-P Metsavainio)

Finnish astrophotographer J-P Metsavainio spent 1,250 hours over the course of about 12 years creating a single image that reveals the magnificent beauty of the entire Milky Way galaxy.

Back in 2009, Metsavainio began this project, which is a 1.7-gigapixel mosaic of the Milky Way composed of 234 individual images all stitched together. The resulting image (which you can see below) captures the entire galaxy, speckled with about 20 million of the Milky Way's roughly 200 billion stars.

The entire Milky Way, as imaged by J-P Metsavainio. (Image credit: J-P Metsavainio)

So, how could a single image take 12 years? 

In his blog, Metsavainio points to "the size of the mosaic and the fact that the image is very deep. Another reason is that I have shot most of the mosaic frames as individual compositions and published them as independent artworks." In the blog, Metsavainio also includes information about the different cameras and some of the more specific techniques he used to create this image.

The entire Milky Way mosaic with pointed out highlights, created by J-P Metsavainio.  (Image credit: J-P Metsavainio)

Some of the celestial objects in the Milky Way required more exposure than others, as some appeared dimmer and were harder to see. For example, a single supernova remnant took over 60 exposure hours, he explains in his blog. 

Related: Pictures from space! Our image of the day

Image 1 of 7

An image of the California Nebula (NGC 1499), that's a part of the much larger Milky Way image created by Finnish astrophotographer J-P Metsavainio.

An image of the California Nebula (NGC 1499), that's a part of the much larger Milky Way image created by Finnish astrophotographer J-P Metsavainio. (Image credit: J-P Metsavainio)
Image 2 of 7

IC 405 & 410 area in Augira, a piece of a larger Milky Way image by J-P Metsavainio.

IC 405 & 410 area in Augira, a piece of a larger Milky Way image by J-P Metsavainio. (Image credit: J-P Metsavainio)
Image 3 of 7

Sharpless 124 & the Cocoon Nebula, imaged by J-P Metsavainio.

Sharpless 124 & the Cocoon Nebula, imaged by J-P Metsavainio. (Image credit: J-P Metsavainio)
Image 4 of 7

The supernova remnant G65.3+5.7, as imaged by J-P Metsavainio.

The supernova remnant G65.3+5.7, as imaged by J-P Metsavainio. (Image credit: J-P Metsavainio)
Image 5 of 7

Sharpless 205, NGC 1491 and Lynds Bright Nebula 696, as imaged by J-P Metsavainio.

Sharpless 205, NGC 1491 and Lynds Bright Nebula 696, as imaged by J-P Metsavainio. (Image credit: J-P Metsavainio)
Image 6 of 7

IC 1396, as imaged by J-P Metsavainio.

IC 1396, as imaged by J-P Metsavainio. (Image credit: J-P Metsavainio)
Image 7 of 7

The tulip nebula area, as imaged by J-P Metsavainio.

The tulip nebula area, as imaged by J-P Metsavainio. (Image credit: J-P Metsavainio)

While the entire image on its own is stunning, because of the detail Metsavainio was able to capture in this mosaic, there are many "hidden gems" you can spot. 

These pieces of the full picture showcase the beauty of celestial objects like the California Nebula, the Pelican Nebula, the Wizard Nebula and more. 

The mosaic panels for J-P Metsavainio's 100,000-pixel image of the Milky Way.  (Image credit: J-P Metsavainio)

An up-close look at the mosaic panels of J-P Metsavainio's image of the Milky Way. (Image credit: J-P Metsavainio)

The space between Cygnus and Cepheus as part of J-P Metsavainio's image of the Milky Way.  (Image credit: J-P Metsavainio)

From the Bubble to the Cave Nebula, imaged by J-P Metsavainio.  (Image credit: J-P Metsavainio)

IC 405 6 410 area, imaged by J-P Metsavainio.  (Image credit: J-P Metsavainio)

You can see more of Metsavainio's amazing space photography at his website here.

Email Chelsea Gohd at cgohd@space.com or follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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