The largest ever survey of the night sky is now available to the public. The Pan-STARRS project represents approximately half a million composite shots of the night sky captured from Hawaii for free download for anyone who wants to explore space quietly from their armchair.
Pan-STARRS (acronym for Panoramic Survey Telescope And Rapid Response System) is an astronomical survey project that performs astrometry and photometry of a large area of the sky almost continuously. By detecting any differences from previous observations of the same areas of the sky, astronomers hope to discover huge numbers of new asteroids, comets, variable stars and other celestial objects. Its main mission is to detect near-Earth objects that could cause cosmic impacts, but there are also plans to create a database including all objects visible from Hawaii (about three quarters of the sky). And for enthusiasts, some data is now available for download.
» Pan-STARRS1 surveys allow anyone to access millions of images and browse the catalog database containing precision measurements of billions of stars and other galaxiess”, rejoices Ken Chambers, director of the Pan-Starrs Observatories. » With this release, we hope that every scientist, student, or even casual user around the world will be able to make new discoveries about the Universe through the wealth of data collected by Pan-STARRS. « .
The first Pan-STARRS telescope, called PS1, located at the top of Haleakalā in Maui, was commissioned on December 6, 2008 under the responsibility of the University of Hawaii. Since then, Pan-STARRS has used four 1.8m telescopes that point in the same direction: the data is then compared to eliminate all defects, from defective pixels to cosmic rays. The images are then added together to give the equivalent of a single 3.6m telescope. One of the telescopes is even equipped with the largest digital camera ever built and records almost 1.4 billion pixels per image. It’s the most powerful digital camera ever built (yet).
With such resolution, each image captures a patch of sky that is roughly 36 times the surface of the Moon as seen from Earth. New photos were taken every 30 seconds for four years, with each image measuring at least 2 gigabytes. The overall collection weighs about 2 petabytes (or 2,000 terabytes or 2 million gigabytes). For scientists, this equates to around 1 billion selfies or 100 times the total content of Wikipedia.