Thanks to NASA’s Swift satellite and astronomers from both NASA and Penn State University, we can now feast our eyes on this: the most detailed ultraviolet light survey ever of the two closest galaxies to us.
Ultraviolet surveys like this can be the best way to get a look at nearby galaxies; our own sun doesn’t give off all that much UV, so it appears more dim and doesn’t overpower the hotter stars in the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, the two galaxies closest to our own Milky Way. With non-UV photography, our sun would drown out more faraway bodies.
This particular shot, presented yesterday at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society, is a mosaic of 2,200 shots, combining to create a 160-megapixel image. It’s sharp enough that it’s given a rating of 2.5 arc seconds–the equivalent of being able to see dime-sized objects a mile away as distinct.
It’s pretty amazing to look at, obviously, but it’s also important: “With these mosaics, we can study how stars are born and evolve across each galaxy in a single view, something that’s very difficult to accomplish for our own galaxy because of our location inside it,” said NASA’s Stefan Immler. Check out a bonkers-sized image here (warning: 55MB in size, may destroy computer) or a slightly smaller version here.