Scientists complete a massive survey of the Milky Way

Astronomers have released a massive galactic plane survey of the Milky Way containing a staggering 3.32 billion celestial objects – arguably the largest such catalog to date. Data for this unprecedented survey was taken using the Dark Energy Camera at NSF’s Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. The Milky Way contains hundreds of billions of stars, star-forming regions, and dark clouds of dust and gas. Collecting these objects for the study is a massive undertaking that took two years to complete and generated more than 10 terabytes of data from 21,400 individual exposures. Most of the Milky Way’s stars and dust lie in its disk — the bright band running across this image — where the spiral arms lie. While this abundance of stars and dust makes for beautiful images like this one, it also makes the galactic plane difficult to observe. “With this new survey, we are able to map the 3D structure of the Milky Way’s stars and dust in unprecedented detail,” says Edward Schlafly, a researcher at the Space Telescope Science Institute managed by AURA.

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