JP Metsavainio is a Finnish astrophotographer who launched his megaproject on March 16, 2021: an impressive mosaic of our galaxy, the Milky Way, spread across the night sky. Metsavainio wrote on his blog:
It took nearly twelve years to collect enough data for this high-resolution mosaic image of the Milky Way. The total exposure time used is around 1250 hours between 2009 and 2021.
He accomplished it all using his own small observatory in Oulu, Finland, with just a 12-inch telescope and photographic equipment. Metsavainio’s Milky Way panorama consists of 234 individual images, each created in its own right as a work of art. Together, these hours translate into an image that is 1.7 gigapixels and 100,000 pixels wide.
Metsavainio told EarthSky how it all started:
I decided to make a large mosaic of the Milky Way over 10 years ago. At the time, I was aware that it would take at least a decade to finish (and the work is still in progress). As a visual artist, the composition of the image means a lot to me. Over the years, I have shot hundreds of individual targets in the Milky Way. Each image taken is a separate work of art. At the same time, I always had in mind the needs of the final great composition. This is like having a short-term plan in action, but at the same time having a long-term plan behind everything.
The Metsavainio project has attracted a lot of attention recently, and with good reason. The extreme detail and depth are reminiscent of images from the Hubble Space Telescope.
The Metsavainio Observatory is located in the center of his hometown of Oulu on the west coast of Finland and is therefore subject to a fair amount of light pollution. This is the reason why it filters the light and measures the so-called Narrow band emissions; that is, it lets light pass through narrow windows at specific optical wavelengths, at the wavelengths of ionized hydrogen (H-alpha), sulfur, and oxygen (S II and O III).
Metsavainio created these images with art in mind first, but scientifically. He told EarthSky:
I have no scientific ambitions, but my photos meet the rules of the scientific image. They have been used for some scientific purposes before and have that kind of value too. As a visual artist, I like to give people a visual experience, even if they have no idea what they are looking at.
And the dividing line between science and art can be fine at times, especially when it comes to astrophotography. For example, NASA’s Astronomical Image of the Day (APOD) has featured many of the Metsavainium images, explaining the science that can be seen in each (recent examples here and here).
We highly recommend visiting JP Metsavainio’s webpage to dig into a high-resolution version of his Milky Way panorama and the images that comprise it, as well as for more details on how he did this project.
Below are two close-ups of regions in the grand panorama:
Bottom line: Finnish astrophotographer JP Metsavainio spent nearly 12 years photographing the Milky Way and piecing together 234 individual frames to form a large panorama of our galaxy.
Source: Milky Way, 12 years, 1250 hours of exposures and 125 x 22 degree sky