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Touring the Milky Way now is as easy as clicking a button with NASA's new zoomable, 360-degree mosaic presented Thursday at the TEDActive 2014 Conference in Vancouver, Canada. The star-studded panorama of our galaxy is constructed from more than 2 million infrared snapshots taken over the past 10 years by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope.
Spitzer, launched into space in 2003 and has spent more than 10 years studying everything from asteroids in our solar system to the most remote galaxies at the edge of the observable universe. In this time, it has spent a total of 4,142 hours (172 days) taking pictures of the disk, or plane, of our Milky Way galaxy in infrared light. This is the first time those images have been stitched together into a single, expansive view. Our galaxy is a flat spiral disk; our solar system sits in the outer one-third of the Milky Way, in one of its spiral arms. When we look toward the center of our galaxy, we see a crowded, dusty region jam-packed with stars. Visible-light telescopes cannot look as far into this region because the amount of dust increases with distance, blocking visible starlight. Infrared light, however, travels through the dust and allows Spitzer to view past the galaxy's center.
This is so awesome!