Photopic Sky Survey lets you explore the night like never before

The full-view picture of the night sky you'll start with when you visit Nick Risinger's Photopic Sky Survey site. From here, you can zoom deeply into any part of the image for spectacular closeup views of clusters, nebulas and other galaxies. Click image to visit the survey. Credit: Nick Risinger

Nick Risinger traveled 60,000 miles and took 37,440 pictures to create the most wonderful interactive map of the night sky you’ll ever click a mouse on. The 28-year-old Risinger, a native of Seattle, divided the sky into 624 equally spaced areas and then photographed each one through six digital cameras, each equipped with a short telephoto lens and color filter. To find skies dark enough to be untainted by the light pollution we’ve become all too familiar with, Risinger set up his gear in remote areas across the Western U.S. For southern hemisphere coverage he flew to South Africa on two occasions. His father joined him for the entire journey.

Nick Risinger and his father built a special mounting bar to hold the six cameras on an equatorial mount used to track the stars during the time exposures. Credit: Nick Risinger

The shooting side of the project took him from March 2010 into January 2011. Months of processing time followed until the final 5,000-megapixel image he calls the Photopic Sky Survey was realized.

When you check it out, you’ll start with a wide view of the entire sky. Drag and scroll your mouse over the photo to discover its hidden third dimension. Like magic, you can zoom in and pan around as individual star clusters and nebulae emerge from the starry mist. It’s incredible. And to my amazement, the map zooms and re-draws quickly despite viewing it on my Barney Rubble computer.

A few words of guidance. The two bigger blobs at lower right in the photo above are the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, satellite galaxies of the Milky Way. The pink clouds are fluorescing hydrogen gas associated with star-forming clouds of dust and gas called bright nebulae, and the spidery streaks across the bright, starry hub of the Milky Way are dust clouds known as dark nebulae.

Now click the link and enjoy your journey!

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About astrobob

My name is Bob King and I work at the Duluth News Tribune in Duluth, Minn. as a photographer and photo editor. I'm also an amateur astronomer and have been keen on the sky since age 11. My modest credentials include membership in the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) where I'm a regular contributor, International Meteorite Collectors Assn. and Arrowhead Astronomical Society. I also teach community education astronomy classes at our local planetarium.

19 thoughts on “Photopic Sky Survey lets you explore the night like never before

  1. Hi Bob

    Just wanted to ask you if its true what I read on the net that there was a meteor seen from Texas to Oklahoma on the 2/02/12, I think someone posted this on amarillo.com so I don’t know if thats a good site or not as you know I come from Scotland, if it was and if i’m right here as you know I’m new to this lol is meteors not to do with comets and if thats right and there was a meteor what comet would that be from, also they are saying this gave off a sonic boom, don’t know if its all true or not Bob but I know you would be the man to ask :) thanks

    • Hi Lynn,
      Yes, it was a meteor as bright as the full moon with big booms too as it broke up in the atmosphere. There’s even a possibility for fragments on the ground. This meteor almost certainly originated in the distant past from a collision among asteroids. It’s anyone’s guess as to which.

  2. Bob,
    Planning to renew my lapsed Sky & Telescope subscription but can’t decide if I want paper, digital or both. Keeping in mind I’m a bit of Betty Rubble myself; have you found the digital version to be adequately satisfying? Your opinion is valued and appreciated!

    • MBZ,
      Although I know it’s available, I’ve never looked into the digital version since I’ve been a paper subscriber for decades. I’m sure it’s fine, but I like being able to carry the magazine with me and flip through at bedtime. I’m pretty sure that if you get the magazine, you get the digital for free.

  3. it was dark,there was car in the left lane just passing us. All of the sudden a shower of small rocks was raining down on both vehicles. We both slowed down and then as quickly as it started it was over. My passenger and I spent the rest of trip trying to explain it away.

    • Teri,
      My first guess – and you probably discussed this – is that the passing car kicked up some small rocks on the shoulder. Either that or dirt and small rocks stuck as mud on the car’s underside (rear flaps, in the tire treads) shook loose when the car passed by spraying your vehicle with debris. There’s a tiny chance it was a rain of actual small meteoric stones, but I would think you might notice a brilliant fireball or flash in the sky before that would happen.

  4. of course we did discuss the possibility of the other car kicking rocks up. But the amount of rocks that came down and the fact that were not coming at the car but rather down on the car led us to discard that this was not a possibility. We didnt see anything in the sky prior. We will never know for sure but it was strange. I was hoping someone else (the other car) would have posted something

    • Teri,
      I’d say if you ever get the chance to go back to that spot, stop and look around for any suspicious looking black-crusted rocks. If you find any, please get back to me. Hopefully it’s not too far from your home so you can return soon before the next snowfall.

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