By James Devitt
February 2, 2011
NYU physicists were behind the creation of the largest-ever digital color image of the sky, which was released by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey III (SDSS-III) in January. The trillion-pixel image is comprised of photographs taken by a 2.5 meter telescope at the Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico since 1998 and covers one-third of the night sky. It includes a half billion stars and galaxies.
The NYU team, headed by Michael Blanton, an assistant professor in the Department of Physics, was involved in designing and running the survey as well as analyzing the data that yielded the historic image.
This effort involved a collaboration with more than 40 other institutions, including Johns Hopkins University, Lawrence Berkeley Labs, Brookhaven National Labs, and the Observatorio Nacional in Rio de Janeiro.
“The image is large enough to contain some of the most unusual objects in the Universe,” explained Blanton. “For example, in it you can find not just run-of-the-mill galaxies, but also many galaxies caught in those brief moments of their lives when they are growing through collisions with each other. These collisions, some of them spectacular and involving multiple galaxies, are just one example of the sort of rare event that a huge survey like this can capture."
But the effort resulted in more than just a remarkable picture, Blanton added. As part of the collaboration, NYU physicists turned data collected from the Apache Point Observatory into an SDSS database that scientists and the public may use for additional analysis. It may be accessed at http://www.sdss3.org/dr8/.