Belfast (United Kingdom): The world's largest digital survey of the visible universe, mapping billions of stars and galaxies, has been publicly released.
The data has been made available by the international Pan-STARRS project, which includes scientists from Queen's University Belfast and the Universities of Durham and Edinburgh along with NASA and the National Science Foundation, who have predicted that it will lead to new discoveries about the universe.
Dr Ken Chambers, Director of the Pan-STARRS Observatories, at the University of Hawaii, said: "Pan-STARRS has already made discoveries from Near Earth Objects and Kuiper Belt Objects in the Solar System to lonely planets between the stars; it has mapped the dust in three dimensions in our galaxy and found new streams of stars; and it has found new kinds of exploding stars and distant quasars in the early universe."
"The Pan-STARRS1 survey allows anyone to access millions of images and use the database and catalogues containing precision measurements of billions of stars and galaxies."
Astronomers and cosmologists used a 1.8-metre telescope at the summit of Haleakala, on Maui, Hawaii, to repeatedly image three quarters of the visible sky over four years.
The data they have captured in the Pan-STARRS1 Surveys is made up of three billion separate sources, including stars, galaxies, and other space objects.
This immense collection of information contains two petabytes of computer data - equivalent to one billion selfies or one hundred times the total content of Wikipedia.
In May 2010, the Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System, or Pan-STARRS, observatory embarked on a digital survey of the sky in visible and near infrared light.
This was the first survey with a goal of observing the sky very rapidly over and over again, looking for moving objects and transient or variable objects, including asteroids that could potentially threaten the Earth.