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Microsoft Terapixel: largest, clearest image of night sky ever produced

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Tech giant Microsoft says it has produced the largest and clearest image of the night sky ever -- and it's a terapixel in size.

Tech and research giant Microsoft says it has produced the largest and clearest image of the night sky ever -- and it's a terapixel in size.

How big is a terapixel, you ask? 1,000,000,000,000 pixels, or a million megapixels. (To compare, most consumer digital SLR cameras shoot photos around 10 megapixels.)

Microsoft's aptly-named Terapixel project digitally stitched together 1,791 pairs of red-light and blue-light images (in 14,000 by 14,000-pixel resolution!) from the Palomar telescope in California and the UK Schmidt telescope in New South Wales, Australia.

Naturally, the image is available using WorldWide Telescope and Bing Maps, where you can zoom in and out to look at the galaxy.

The project required crunching all the image data collected by the Digitized Sky Survey over the last 50 years. The high-performance computer that did it was made up of 64 compute nodes, each with a quad-core Intel Xeon CPU with 16 GB RAM and 1.7 TB of storage.

The RGB images took five hours of computing to produce, three hours to digitally stitch together and four hours to optimize (and remove the seams).

The result? A brilliant demonstration of how a supercomputer can be used for astronomy, bioinformatics and environmental sciences.

Microsoft announced the image on July 13 at its annual Research Faculty Summit.

Image: The Milky Way, before and after Terapixel. (Microsoft)

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure