A 2.5 Gigapixel Splendor
Matt Harbison is an astrophotographer and has taken what is probably the most detailed picture of Orion from Earth.  | © Foto: Matt Harbison

A 2.5 Gigapixel Splendor

5. November 2020 | by Thorsten Naeser

Der Astrofotograf Matt Harbison hat das wohl detailreichste Bild des Orion-Sternbildes aus mehr als 2500 Einzelbildern geschaffen.

The astrophotographer Matt Harbison likely created the most detailed image of the Orion constellation from

more than 2500 single images.

It is probably one of the most beautiful and famous constellations in the sky. Orion, also called hunter, consists of many especially bright stars. Its three 'belt stars' in the middle are nicely lined up in a line, both 'shoulders' shine brightly, as do its 'knees'. Below the belt, some stars and nebulous star clusters are arranged in such a way that it looks as if Orion had a sword at this point. In the nightly winter sky, Orion can be observed particularly well from Central Europe.

Ever since he was a child, this splendor of the sparkling stars has fascinated the American Matt Harbison. "I observed the familiar symmetry of Orion," Harbison recalls. "I saw it when I was on camping trips with my parents and grandparents when I was a child. I was looking for it when I looked through my first small telescope at the scout camp," Harbison continues.

Today, Matt Harbison is an astrophotographer and has made a dream come true. His image of Orion is the most detailed ever taken from the surface of the earth. He started in 2013 and it took him five years to take 2508 images. Afterwards he invested 500 hours in the editing and post-processing. He even developed his own camera with a special sensor for the project.

"The image posed many problems from the start," Harbison recalls. "Every night I had to compensate for different environmental conditions, align my camera back to the same star position and return to a position of just a few thousand pixels North, South, East or West with pinpoint accuracy," Harbison continues. "Aside from the challenge of software, there were also the continual hardware problems and challenging weather conditions in East Tennessee. Sure, there are some good nights, but there are some not so good nights as well," he says.

After all images were taken, they had to be put together. But this project did not run smoothly either. "I started in 2015 on a Mac Pro with 2 Xeon processors and 64 GB RAM. This machine was one of the fastest computers, but at some point I reached the RAM limit," says Harbison. After that, it was going to take another five years for the computing power to meet Harbison's needs. It wasn't until 2020 that his computer, a 24-core AMD thread ripper with 256 GB of memory, was strong enough to assemble all the images perfectly.

Now the 2.5 gigapixel image of the Orion constellation is ready. It has become a monumental work. Harbison has created one of the most detailed images of the Orion constellation ever recorded.