The VISTA telescope in northern Chile had compiled the largest catalog of the stars swirling around the core of our galaxy.
That right there? That's the center of our galaxy, as seen by the powerful Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) instrument in northern Chile, and this particular image is the largest catalog of the stars there to date, some 84 million of them (10 times more than earlier catalogs).
Well, not exactly. I can't load the full, detailed image onto The Atlantic's servers. What you see above is just a thumbnail (3000 pixels wide if you click through). The original image, navigable and zoomable here, covers 108,500 by 81,500 pixels (just under nine billion pixels or nine gigapixels). If you were to print it out at normal book-level resolution, it would be something like 30 feet wide and 23 feet tall. Really the only way to see it is on a computer.
The image contains both visible and infrared light, which allows astronomers to documents stars normally obstructed by gas clouds. In the video below you can see a bit about how the two kinds of light combine to create the final image.
All of the data that went into the image are being contributed to the public domain through the observatory's archive so that in the months ahead astronomers can pore over them, searching for clues as the formation, evolution, and structure of our galaxy, and looking for stars that might be good candidates for more exoplanet discoveries.