Nick Risinger's 360 degrees of night

Risinger, 28, set up his rack of six synchronized cameras in high-elevation locales in the Western U.S. and South Africa, timing photo shoots around new moons when nights were long and dark. He programmed his cameras to track the stars as they moved across the sky and simultaneously snapped thousands of photos.

From Risinger's website:

The Photopic Sky Survey is a 5,000 megapixel photograph of the entire night sky stitched together from 37,440 exposures. Large in size and scope, it portrays a world far beyond the one beneath our feet and reveals our familiar Milky Way with unfamiliar clarity. When we look upon this image, we are in fact peering back in time, as much of the light—having traveled such vast distances—predates civilization itself.

Seen at a depth thousands of times more faint than the dimmest visible star, tens of millions of other suns appear, still perhaps only a hundredth of one percent thought to exist in our galaxy alone. Our Milky Way galaxy is the dominant feature, its dusty arms sweeping through the frame, punctuated by red clouds of glowing hydrogen. To the lower right are our nearest neighbors, each small galaxies themselves with their own hundreds of millions of stars.

The full 5,000-megapixel image.

Creating the incredibly detailed photograph involved an equally incredible feat of planning.  To account for lapses in coverage and having to hop from one area of the sky to the next, Risinger divided the sky into 624 uniformly spaced areas and entered their coordinates into his computer.  Each frame received a total of 60 exposures: four short, four medium, and four long shots for each camera which helped to reduce the amount of noise, overhead satellite trails and other unwanted artifacts.

Prepping the cameras for a night of shooting in Colorado. This particular night dropped to -6°F (-21°C).

After shooting for most of last year, Risinger began piecing the panoramic image together in January, and finished the project in April. To date the website has received over one million hits, and the image was recently chosen as a NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day.

(via VSL and Phuong Le, Associated Press)

(Images: Nick Risinger, Photopic Sky Survey)

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