Is There Anybody Out There?

12 January 2011, 11:45 | Updated: 12 January 2011, 13:08

Scientists from Portsmouth University have helped to take the biggest-ever photo of space

It's taken ten years to put the image together using a camera mounted on a telescope in New Mexico. It's the largest digital image of the night sky, and it maps the universe in more detail than any previous image.

This picture's so big and detailed that 500,000 high-definition televisions would be needed to view it at its full resolution.

Professor Bob Nichol, of the University of Portsmouth, the only British university involved, said: "This opens opportunities for many years of scientific discoveries yet to come.

"This image is the culmination of decades of work by hundreds of people Scientists .

"Astronomy has a rich tradition of making all such data freely available to the public and we hope everyone will enjoy it as much as we have."

The image has already been used to discover nearly half a billion astronomical objects, including asteroids, stars, galaxies and distant quasars.

Daniel Thomas, from the University of Portsmouth's Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation, who is also involved in the project, said: "Previous ambitious sky surveys, like the Palomar Survey of the 1950s, are still being used as a reference and scientists expect the latest data to have a similarly long shelf life."

The image was begun in 1998 using what was then the world's largest digital camera, a 126-megapixel imaging detector on the back of a dedicated 2.5-metre telescope at the Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico, US.

Using the new image scientists will be able to measure distances to more than a million galaxies detected in it and it is hoped this will help solve the mystery of "dark energy'' and how much of the universe is taken up by it.

Professor David Schlegel, from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, said: "Dark energy is the biggest conundrum facing science today and we hope to lead the way in trying to figure out what the heck it is."