NOIRLab: Billions of Celestial Objects Revealed in Gargantuan Survey of the Milky Way
Astronomers have released a gargantuan survey of the galactic plane of the Milky Way. The new dataset contains a staggering 3.32 billion celestial objects — arguably the largest such catalog so far. The data for this unprecedented survey were taken with the Dark Energy Camera, built by the US Department of Energy, at the NSF’s Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, a Program of NOIRLab.
The Milky Way Galaxy contains hundreds of billions of stars, glimmering star-forming regions, and towering dark clouds of dust and gas. Imaging and cataloging these objects for study is a herculean task, but a newly released astronomical dataset known as the second data release of the Dark Energy Camera Plane Survey (DECaPS2) reveals a staggering number of these objects in unprecedented detail. The DECaPS2 survey, which took two years to complete and produced more than 10 terabytes of data from 21,400 individual exposures, identified approximately 3.32 billion objects — arguably the largest such catalog compiled to date. Astronomers and the public can explore the dataset here.
This unprecedented collection was captured by the Dark Energy Camera (DECam) instrument on the Víctor M. Blanco 4-meter Telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO), a Program of NSF’s NOIRLab. CTIO is a constellation of international astronomical telescopes perched atop Cerro Tololo in Chile at an altitude of 2200 meters (7200 feet). CTIO’s lofty vantage point gives astronomers an unrivaled view of the southern celestial hemisphere, which allowed DECam to capture the southern Galactic plane in such detail.
DECaPS2 is a survey of the plane of the Milky Way as seen from the southern sky taken at optical and near-infrared wavelengths. The first trove of data from DECaPS was released in 2017, and with the addition of the new data release, the survey now covers 6.5% of the night sky and spans a staggering 130 degrees in length. While it might sound modest, this equates to 13,000 times the angular area of the full Moon.
The DECaPS2 dataset is available to the entire scientific community and is hosted by NOIRLab’s Astro Data Lab, which is part of the Community Science and Data Center. Interactive access to the imaging with panning/zooming inside of a web-browser is available from the Legacy Survey Viewer, the World Wide Telescope and Aladin.