All of us have looked up at the night sky on a particularly clear evening, realizing how impossible it would be to attempt to count the stars. Take that feeling and multiply it by about 100,000.
Because while the naked eye can spot about 6,000 stars in the sky, this newly released image from NASA contains 500,000,000 stars, galaxies, and other incredible objects from across the universe. (Though objects in motion, like comets, were removed for cataloging purposes.) It’s the largest, most detailed infrared view of space, ever, captured by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE).
The luminescent blue particles in the middle are stars in the tendrils of our disk-shaped Milky Way. They’re not really blue. As this photo was technically taken in infrared, the wavelengths captured are far beyond our color spectrum. But scientists use what are known as false colors as a visual shorthand to identify objects. Blue is used in shorter IR lengths, green in medium, and red in longer. In this regard, the colors–while entirely fictitious–parallel our visual spectrum.
But beyond the awesome scope of the shot, what I find most fascinating is that you’re looking at space as you’d see it from Earth, if only you could see a lot better. WISE parks just 326 miles outside of our planet, circling us about 15 times a day while snapping shots every 11 seconds. Whether or not you can wrap your head around the magnitude of the image, mentally framing the image isn’t too difficult. It is, quite simply, our view.