A 2.5 Gigapixel Image of the Orion Constellation

from Kottke

Amateur astronomer Matt Harbison has been working for the past five years on capturing a detailed image of the Orion constellation. He recently completed the project and the result is this 2.5 gigapixel photo mosaic composed of 12,816 individual photos. From PetaPixel, which has a good writeup of the project, a taste of the challenges involved with constructing this image:

Even after all the images were shot and each panel completed, the finished image did not come together smoothly. “I began in 2015 on a Mac Pro with 2 Xeon Processors and 64GB of RAM. This machine was easily one of the fastest computers of the day, and it carried me all the way up to panel 47 where I believe I hit the RAM limit of the computer.”

It would take five years from that point for technology to catch up to Harbison’s needs as he wouldn’t have a computer powerful enough to complete the task until August of 2020. “The new computer is an AMD Threadripper with 24 cores and 256GB of memory,” Harbison said. “It took a total of 23 hours to provide an astrometric solution for all 200 panels and then an additional 19 hours to merge into the gradient merge mosaic tool.”

What an amazing thing to be able to make from your backyard.


More here.

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  1. I think there are at least two significant insights provided by this article that are not immediately apparent. It may be short but these points relate to the reduction of limitations for visionaries and the recent domination by AMD in the CPU and GPU market.

    The idea that came to mind when reading about Matt Harbison’s work is related to limitations in technology that often restrict the progress made by the visionaries of any time. Davinci is a frequently cited historical figure who identified through creativity and logic a variety of ideas and designs that ended up being produced hundreds of years later in some form or another. Many of the ideas in his notebook were never produced due to the technological limitations of available materials and resources at the time. Some of his ideas were only realized and tested many hundreds of years after his death such as a self-propelled armored vehicle (tank). There have consistently been visionaries throughout history with ideas well ahead of the available technology, but I feel that over time the exponential explosion of technological growth has reduced the limitations of visionaries and ordinary people alike. Ideas limited by an absence of technology are hampered for only a few years instead of hundreds. While likening Davinci to an amateur astronomer may be a bit of a stretch, it is realistic to make the conjecture that the limitation of consumer computer technology which hampered Harbison’s early efforts to produce the image he desired. However, the ridiculous increase in thread-count (The equivalent of an additional functional core for each thread added) and a quadrupling of available RAM over a period of only 5 years is evidence that the speed of technological growth is enabling people to conceptualize technologies and ideas vastly more impressive than current, but achievable in only a few years. The scale and magnitude of what’s achievable over time in proportion to technological growth is an incredible example of how human society continues to grow.

    The second point that can be gleaned from this article aside from the incredible feat of producing an image with 2.5 billion pixels is the transition in cutting edge computer technology market leadership, specifically CPU’s, from Intel to AMD. Intel has long held a larger market share of the consumer computer market over AMD. Seen as the budget or low-cost option for many years, AMD invested in the latest concepts and materials and revolutionized the consumer computing market with the introduction of its ZEN series processors (of which I currently use a third-generation unit). Producing processors that rival and often outperform Intel processors at a lower cost is the hallmark strategy of the brand in the past 5 years. Harbison exemplifies this because he was in need of the absolute best CPU for image processing at a cost affordable to an amateur ($460 currently on Newegg for 24 core RYZEN). In 2015 when Intel still dominated the market the best available processors were Xeon’s from Intel. 5 years later the best available for a consumer is an AMD RYZEN model. Incredibly, AMD has virtually overturned the market for amateur computer and technology enthusiasts and continues to challenge Intel with better offerings. The business implications of a CPU market no-longer dominated by a single manufacturer include faster development progress as a result of competition and lower prices for enthusiasts. It may only be as context, but Harison’s amateur status and switch from flagship Intel to consumer-grade AMD hardware show the impressive development of AMD as a company and a revitalized global player in computing hardware.

  2. Overall, I find this article very interesting. This article made me so aware of the ethical challenges in the business world. For example, the article discusses about how the AMD is required in the CPU and GPU market. The article also talks about the challenge of the cost needed to do the task successfully. The article made me aware about the legal and ethical challenges when dealing with this matter and how to solve the problem. The article made me aware that the AMD hardware will be used more successfully if time and money are used wisely, ethically, and efficiently.

  3. The things that people can do from their houses, garages, basements or yards is truly amazing. Amazon was started out of a garage, my grandpa started a tire shop out of his own garage and it is still open to this day. What Jason Kottke did is truly amazing because he was able to do it with just a laptop and some equipment that he was able to operate from his own backyard. He started using a laptop that couldn’t handle what he was doing. His ideas were ahead of his own time and his goal was to do something that was limited by the technology available to him. It took him 5 years to gain access to something that could handle what he wanted to do. It took him 5 years to create something on a computer in an age where computers are some of the most advanced pieces of technology out there. This shows how many great minds that there are out there that can go unnoticed, but they won’t be noticed until they achieve something great. Things like photographs of space are amazing to look at on their own, but sometimes they aren’t in the great HD quality that we are all used to. We have super computers at our fingertips, but going beyond our world is sometimes unheard of Jason’s ability to be able to capture this photo in such great quality with such limited technology (for his needs) at his hands. I don’t know too much about computer software, but I can tell that this was a culmination of years of hard work and dedication to his craft. It was also waiting, he was stuck waiting for something that could put his ideas and visions to life.

  4. This is amazing. What an inspiring story to read that an individual was able to complete this beautiful mosaic in his backyard. 2.5 gigapixels sounds really big, however I don’t think anyone realizes how big that storage is. That image has 2.5 billion pixels in it to view. That is such a crazy concept to me for that to even be possible, let alone in the backyard.

    One really interesting point I found was the technology delay there was. Matt Harbison wasn’t able to use his high-speed computer with 64GB of RAM which is a lot for any system. He had to wait for the technology to be available to the public and accessible to him. This makes me think about how early space exploration would have happened 40-50 years ago. How would these missions changed and how quickly could we have developed? If it takes a hard-drive the size of a couch to have 10 GB of info back then, and now that is the size of a penny, how did they even do this back then. How in the world were we able to launch a rocket with people in it, to the moon, have them land, and all make it back to safety? When you really try to understand how far we have come as a society it is really interesting to think about.

    I always thought of space exploration as super interesting. What is really out there? A lot of people speculate what could be in different systems and far past what we can, while there are some people who still think the Earth is flat. This is just another example of individuals doing things that many people would only read about in a text book, or in this case now a blog.

    I would be interested to see what Matt could do if he had the budget of other space exploration agencies such as NASA or now the private company of Space-X. It would be really great to maybe see Space-X take Matt as an employee for his work. Knowing he was able to dedicate this amount of time to a passion project, what could he do with a fully funded job. I’m not sure what he day job is, but he should seriously consider looking to make this a full-time thing.

  5. Before reading the article I almost immediately chose this article to write just from reading the title. I love space and stars and everything that is unknown up in the stars above us. I took astronomy as a class last semester and loved every second of it. The thought that we have all of these stars and they are so big but appear so small since they are far away. The picture shown in the article is incredible. It is a great picture, and it was only possible to put together this year since no computer before this year was powerful enough for the task. The article states that, “Amateur astronomer Matt Harbison has been working for the past five years on capturing a detailed image of the Orion constellation. He recently completed the project, and the result is this 2.5 gigapixel photo mosaic composed of 12,816 individual photos,” (Kottke 1). The fact that this picture is made up of twelve thousand individual photos is insane to think about. This is five years’ worth of work all in one picture. The picture shows the three stars of Orion’s belt in bright clarity. It also shows the two stars for his shoulders and the two for his feet. These are the brightest stars in the picture, and they stand out the most. The most eye capturing thing in this picture is that Orion’s right shoulder star is a bright yellow and it stands out. This picture really makes me wonder about everything that is out there, further beyond what we know. What else is out there in the vast outer space? I believe that there is likely more life other than us on another planet that is out in space. I believe that eventually in the future we will find another planet and eventually we will find a way to travel out in space or interact with that type of being. Overall, this article was very interesting to me and a great find. I really enjoy reading about this stuff and seeing what the answer to all my questions is. In summation this picture really does me great awe and is an absolutely incredible project that this astronomer put together.

  6. When I saw this article I felt immediately intrigued, as I took astronomy last year and it really educated me on how amazing and vast our space and solar system are. I wouldn’t have every thought we could create such a high fidelity image of something that is so far away. When speaking about Nebula’s and space and light years, nothing seems feasible. It wasn’t feasible until 2020, and this shows that we have finally advanced enough to really start taking these amazing photos of space and publishing them as they truly look. Creating a 2.5 billion pixel composited image is something that wouldn’t have been deemed possible only a few years ago. What this article mainly shows me is how far we have come in such a short amount of time. The First computer was created in 1985 and now we are so much further in the future tech- wise, yet we have only advanced 35 years. Back when I got my first cellphone, it was a Verizon flip phone with enough power to barely hold calls. Now in the palm of our hands we hold devices powerful enough to facilitate your daily life. You can create music, manage your banking, take 1080p HD photos. We have a better calculator on our phones than NASA did when they launched for the first moon mission on Apollo 11. The iPhone has approximately 7 million more times processing power than the Apollo 11. Let that sink in for a second, the technology we hold in our hands today could take us to the moon. The processing power to create the 2.5 gigapixel image probably cost a lot of money today, back in 1985 it would have been worth trillions. Another example of how tech is advancing is with memory units. The first storage device could hold 2.5 gigs and cost between 81 and 140 thousand dollars. Now, you can go to Best Buy and buy a 2 terabyte hard drive for $80. It is absolutely mind blowing how far we have come in such a short amount of time.

  7. This article is a great example of the impact that technology can have on science. Five years ago, when Matt Harbison began working on creating an image of the Orion constellation, he did not have the technology required to accomplish his goal. However, in August of 2020, he finally had the technology to capture this constellation in a 2.5 gigapixel mosaic. Not only that, but he was able to capture the images from his backyard. Without technology, none of this would have been possible. With the continued use of technology in science, there are many scientific mysteries that can be solved. Capturing advanced images of space can help scientists to understand how the universe works, while other forms of technology can help scientists to map the ocean floors. However, it is not just the technology that is important.

    In order to capture a high-quality image of the Orion constellation, Matt Harbison had to come up with a plan and put in the effort. Over the course of 5 years, he took 12,816 individual photos. Then, it took 23 hours to provide the astrometric solution for the 200 panels and 19 hours to merge into the tool. People are the driving force behind technology when it comes to scientific and creative uses. Technology cannot solve a problem or answer questions that it doesn’t know exists. When people are able to leverage technology to help solve problems, the results are a combination of hard work and advanced tools. With the continual growth of technology, people will be able to accomplish amazing things.

  8. This little article is astounding to me. I have taken two astronomy classes in my time at college and have always found space to be super interesting. The mystery of space and how much we don’t know can fascinate anybody and it messes with your brain a little when you think about it too much. I have seen pictures of the Orion constellation before in these classes and it really is breathtaking to look at. There is so much going on in big constellations like Orion but they look so majestic at the same time. The one thing that really stood out to me about this article is the fact that Matt Harbison had to wait for technology to catch up to his idea. We always marvel at how advanced technology has become and continuously becomes. In the last 10 years even, technology has made massive strides in terms of what technology is capable of. The phones and laptops we have now are way smarter than anything ever seen before. Despite all this, Matt still had to wait for technology to catch up to him and that is amazing to me. 64GB of RAM is a lot of storage. The biggest iPhones have 64GB of storage and they can hold thousands of pictures and videos as well as all of the data on the apps that people have. 256GB of memory is a ridiculous amount of storage although I am not surprised he needed that much. He did have over 12,000 images and they are complex images as well. People need to realize how big 256GB of memory is though and appreciate how much time he took to complete this project. He just made it in his own backyard and that is incredible. This article goes to show what humans can do when they are determined or passionate and put their mind to something. This really is incredible and I hope he gets a lot of recognition for doing this amazing thing.

  9. This picture of space captures something magical. It makes me feel a kind of indescribable way. Even though this picture is supposed to capture the famous Orion constellation, my focus lies elsewhere. The colors are vibrant. You can see the different colors of the stars. Also, the stars in the constellation aren’t just bright dots in the sky, but colorful balls of light each with their own solar systems. Shades of red and orange light the sky and cloud-like structures float around the stars. All of this is invisible to the naked eye. If it was visible to the naked eye, you can bet all your money I’d be outside every night with a lawn chair just staring up. Another thing I notice is the seemingly infinite amount of stars captured in just this image. Each of those tiny dots represents its own solar system with countless planets. Pictures like this make me think of how small and insignificant we are in this vast and seemingly infinite universe. To put this in perspective, this image is taken as a zoomed in and enhanced photo of one constellation, with countless stars in the sky. The International Astronomical Union recognizes 88 separate constellations. If you took an enhanced photo of each of them, you would see countless images like this one which encapsulate thousands upon thousands of stars and galaxies. And if we combined all of those images, it would be only a small fraction of our observable universe. And when you take that into account, there’s such a substantial amount of the universe that we can’t see from Earth. The size of this universe is something so amazing that we should be mentioning more often. What’s interesting about this particular photo is that it is composed of 12,816 individual photos. The astronomer who took this photo mentioned that he started working on the photo in 2015 and it took him 5 years to wait for technology to catch up so he could finally produce the completed photo in all it’s beauty. Another thing that I find interesting is the rate at which technology is evolving to help us provide photos like these. If I could find this image optimized for my computer, I would surely make it my desktop background.The last sentence really tells it all: “What an amazing thing to be able to make from your backyard.”

  10. This article shows a great story of Matt Harbison who began to work on creating the constellation image but he did not have the technology required to really accomplish his goal. In August 2020 he obtained the technology to capture the constellation. Without this form of technology to capture his image from his backyard it wouldn’t have been possible. Technology in the day and age where science and scientific theory have been solved using technology. However it isn’t about the type of technology it was about the work in efficiency and the way you tackle a project. Like Matt he put in hours of work for five years and took about 12,816 individual photos without having the technology needed to come to his progress. Of course when he obtains the technology that helped his life a little bit easier in his work in August 2020 it helps him come to his conclusions. Technology didn’t solve his problem because there wasn’t a direct answer from the technology. It is about solving the problem and combining all of the tools and hints collected to accomplish his goal.

  11. This is a truly magical photo. Looking back at older pictures of space, it is incredible how we have gone from black and white, blurry photos to photos seemingly in the constellations. This picture reminds me of the colorful, edited pictures we used to see in science videos so many years ago in elementary school. The thought that we would ever be able to get a picture of this quality was viewed as impossible. The technological advancements are truly unbelievable, and they open up a world of possibilities.
    The first time I learned about space in any type of detail was earth science in high school. We learned a little bit about the planets and why the earth spun. One thing we did not learn was just how massive the universe is. The universe is estimated to be about 93 billion light-years in diameter. To be honest, I have no idea what that means, but I am assuming it is pretty big. Another thing we did not learn is that there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in our universe. As of today, there are an estimated 100 billion galaxies, but as telescope technology continues to develop, that number is expected to double. Because of all this, I started to watch videos. One video I watched was a camera angle that started on a woman’s stomach and got further and further away. The video then goes from the biggest view of the universe back down and into this woman’s eye. Although that is irrelevant to this article, it still was interesting to see how many components there are to a human eye. Obviously, we all know that space is big, but this video really gave another view of how big it really is. A video like this makes me feel that there is a decent possibility that we are not the only living beings in this universe. There is just too much space to be able to study all of it, so we may never know if we are truly alone or not.

  12. Things that are done at home, or as the article says, in someone’s backyard can be truly astonishing. In the article’s case, a 2.5 gigapixel image of the Orion constellation. The image that was produced is very clear as well, so it’s not like it was just taken on someone’s cellphone and posted to the internet. It is a high-quality image of the constellation that took years to produce, and the hard work that was put into does not go unnoticed. Apple and Amazon are two undoubtedly successful companies that started from a garage, and now they are two of the top multinational companies in the world. It is truly amazing to see what can be done from one’s own home, whether it be starting a business or capturing an amazing picture of a constellation.

  13. It is amazing what one can do when they set their mind to it. Whether is be studying for a test and getting an A, or like Matt Harbison, capturing a 2.5 giga pixel photo mosaic of the Orion constellation. The time and effort that Harbison put into this imaging is astonishing. Taking over 12,800 images, he compiled them together in the most accurate image of the Orion constellation. His project took over five years to complete. This is one the best examples that shows putting in the time and effort can get you the results you want, but only if you work hard enough. It was not until August, 2020 could Harbison then compile all of these images together, as there had not yet been a compute invented with the proper technology. Working towards your goals will always take time and effort, but like Harbison, taking the proper steps and time allows you to succeed and what you want to.

  14. It truly is amazing the capabilities that a human has when they truly set their mind to something. The fact someone can develop a device so powerful that it can see something we will never be able to see with our own eyes is crazy to me. However, this article reminded me of a conversation I had with friends of mine a couple of weeks ago about how much of the stuff that NASA does is truly real. The main point we talked about in our conversation is if people really have been to the moon or if it was faked. I believe Neil Armstrong was on the moon, but at the same time you really do have to sit and wonder why with all of the technological advancements that have been made since then, why the last time any human has been to the moon is December of 1972 and the reason behind this being that NASA has failed to get anyone up there. For this individual to take the time out of their day to compile 12,816 photos to create an image of a constellation really makes you wonder why can’t we do something that at a point in time seemed so much simpler.

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