A new photograph of the Carina Nebula, a complex group of bright and dark nebulae in the constellation Carina, has just been released by the European Southern Observatory. The original image is 140 megapixels, which clocks in as a 344MB download (don’t try this at home, kids) and contains about one million stars.
As explained by astronomer and science communicator Phil Plait, “The colors you see here are not what you’d see with your eye, since it’s all infrared. What’s shown as blue is actually 0.88 microns, or a wavelength just outside what your eye can see. Green is really 1.25 microns and red is 2.15, so both are well into the near-infrared. Even in the infrared, a lot of gas and dust still are visible. That’s because there’s a whole bunch of it here. And it’s not just randomly strewn around; patterns are there when you look for them.”
Plait continues on to clarify that the purpose of such an impressive photo isn’t just for eye candy: astronomers use such images to conduct star censuses. Below are two details of the photo, where you can get a better sense of the extreme density of stars captured in the massive image. (via Kottke)