The Photopic Sky Survey: One man captures the cosmos

A zoomed-in detail from the Sky Survey. Image credit: Nick Risinger,, click for full-size.

Ever wonder what drives someone to undertake an enormous challenge? I sure do. I wonder what drives people to climb mountains, run across deserts or swim vast tracts of ocean. Frankly, most of the time I’m suspicious of their level of sanity. That’s because the only way you’ll ever get me to run any distance is to set a pack of wild dogs on me.

I’ll never really understand what pushes them – these incredible feats of physical endurance can only be accomplished through a personal determination that few of us can relate to.

And as impressed – and often awed – as I am by these exploits, I’m also somewhat saddened that there are only two products of these kinds of monumental endeavours: a deep sense of personal achievement for the person who completed the effort (and anyone who helped them) and – not to be underestimated – the inspiration their success provides others.

But sometimes, a monumental effort can lead to an enduring legacy that can be shared by all. The Photopic Sky Survey is a great example.

The Survey is a 5,000 megapixel photo of the entire night sky and the largest, all-sky, true-colour survey of the visible universe ever created. It exists online and can be viewed from any angle, with or without an overlay of constellations and major stars and nebulae.  And it was done by one man – with a little help from his dad.

Go ahead, check out Nick Risinger’s work, I’ll wait.

Prepping the cameras for a night of shooting in Colorado. Image credit Nick Risinger,, click for full-size.

The Survey was brought to my attention by a colleague, who simply sent me an email with a link to the interactive page. He didn’t give me any background or other info. Just the link.

My immediate thought was, wow, I just love that organizations like NASA or the European Space Agency pull together images from the Hubble Space Telescope or other multi-million dollar observation platforms and compile it in such a way that we can zoom all over the starry skies with nothing more than our laptops. Ain’t science awesome?

But shortly after that I clicked the “about” link, and that’s when my jaw dropped.

This gorgeous and humbling experience wasn’t created by any government-funded scientific organization, or even by a well-endowed private think-tank. It was assembled, as a labour of love, by a single person with a personal determination that few of us can relate to.

The hundreds (thousands?) of hours it took Mr. Risinger to complete his task, the endless nights he spent monitoring the progress of his equipment as the custom-built camera rig traced the passage of stars across the sky, capturing photons that had been travelling billions of years before reaching earth – you can read about all of this on his site. It’s nothing short of amazing.

Thanks Nick Risinger. Your incredible effort has left an enduring legacy that can be shared by all.

Now, Nick I hate to sound ungrateful, but any chance you could make it iPad compatible? It was meant for that device. :-)



  1. kathy

    it is simply amazing to look at all the heavenly bodies and amazingly beautiful items to look at.


    • Mike

      Ah yes….Kathy, I can hear the “Music of the Spheres” already! It’s one thing to “see” heavenly bodies…but it’s another to hear them!! Just as Pythagoras…


  2. Carolyn

    Thanks a million for publishing this article and providing the link to the website. Absolutely incredible and awesome.


    • Simon Cohen

      The Finger Lakes ML-8300 monochrome cameras he used cost about $3,500 USD each. He used 6 of them. The full image is 5,000 megapixels, but this was achieved by stitching many smaller resolution photos together into a single canvas.


  3. Salome Reynolds

    Awesome photo indeed!

    It looks like giving birth to a new planet!

    Great job Nick!




  4. Mack Conway

    Yes agreed this is an amzing picture. So to remember all the skys and the beauty of the universe was spoke into being by My AWSOME God!! Whats more Amazing is that so many people in general like yourself miss out on this the real truth. Now I say or ask what some human puts into pictures which he spent many hours in doing, and yet My God spoke all this into being in moments. Now I understand why the Holy scriptures tells us as mere humans not to venture into the unknown space. Think about it people you can’t even get things together here on earth. God for seen the waste of man and womans time concerning the elements of space thats why our God said not to venture into the unknown. But no as lucifer tryed to overcome my Holy God so does man every day in his precious life God has given him! What a waste of life.Instead of God’s creation bending their knee in reverence to my Holy God God’s creation follow after satan and his rebellious ways.All Praise and Glory unto my king of Kings & Lord of Lords Jesus Chris My God. Amen


    • Palladian

      Won’t they punish you for being on a progressive science website? I agree with David ‘god and heaven, and satan, and hell are just faerie tales used by the powers that be to manipulate and keep humans down.


    • Mrs

      Praise be to Jesus, Lord and Saviour. Amen.
      Seek God first and see where He leads you. Praise Him in good times and in bad times.


    • vincent

      we can only hope that future genearations have the strength to see through the lies and find peace with nature. I fear for those who believe in such myths and tales as though they are true. no savour cometh, we are our only hope. the less people like you the better. ah men?


  5. Amy

    Beautiful picture, amazing, great work! That’s what comes to mind when I saw this picture. What an accomplishment and how proud his parents must be! One thing though…what is the black and brown stuff and what is the pink stuff I see in this photo. I could only think it’s pollution and all kinds of matters that was destroyed up there and with that unbreathable air and it turned it to those colours as the thousands of years and decades went by. The photo is nice but it gets you thinking, is the universe safe? Is our atmosphere (ozone layer) depleting? I wish we had more answers and this picture could provide NASA with some answers, or NASA already knows, and probably that is why they are trying to find us another planet to live on because we are destroying this one. God made the planet for us to live in and how do we thank Him,unfortunately, by destroying it. There is got to be a way for us to save this planet and fast. We need some answers!


  6. Jonathan Halliday

    It’s hard (if not impossible) to find the perfect description for this. I can’t help but be reminded of a sentence from Cormac McCarthy’s “Blood Meridian”: “The night sky lies so sprent with stars that there is scarcely space of black at all and they fall all night in bitter arcs and it so that their numbers are no less.”


    • Jonathan Halliday

      *and it is so that their numbers are no less* Sorry for the typo. I didn’t memorize that sentence, I just read it recently and it stuck out.


  7. Abbott Cremenski

    Thankfully, the lack of oxygen in space has prevented religious fanatics from canvasing nearby solar systems.


  8. jenny

    i dont know if u see it,if u look to the right side of the pic u can see a face that looks like jesus laying down, i may be seeing things. Amazing pic great work


    • Mack Conway

      I don’t see the pic of anyone laying down but in the right top corner I do see a pair of eyes looking out.


  9. anne

    I am NOT Religious, but I remember someone somewhere saying it’s better to live life as if there is a god and find out at the end that there isn’t than to live life like there is no god and find out in the end that there is. Another good one courtesy of the fabulous furry freak bros is “drugs will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no drugs” yet another, ” Too much is never enough” can’t remember the guy’s name who said that, twas many years ago, in a galaxy far, far away….


  10. Craig

    Wow – such incredible photography – truly shows that the universe is amazing enough without having to make stuff up (i.e. gods).


  11. ken

    why bring in religion. Can’t you just look at the picture and marvel in the beauty and the accomplishment this person has done..


  12. bob

    Amy: Thankfully pollution is just a local problem, everything else out there in the universe is exactly as it’s supposed to be. You’re right though, we do need to find a way to save this planet. All you others who blanantly say there is no God: Get your egos in check. Who are you to say where all of this came from? No one really knows, so why would you? At some point in your future when you feel truly lost, confused, humbled, in need of some answers, try to tell yourself you know there is no God. This is truly amazing work, by the way.


  13. A. Theist

    If you look closely enough, you CAN see a teapot!!!

    Religious idiots – brainwashed and blinded and offensive to all.


  14. astronomer

    Yes, it’s a beautiful picture, but some of the facts in the article are a little wrong. Starry Night Pro is a planetarium program with full sky image (taken by one guy) with about 8x the pixels of this one. That was taken about 10 years ago. The digital sky survey dates from the 80’s and also covers the whole sky to better resolution. So the claim of largest whole sky color picture isn’t right.


    • Simon Cohen

      Hey Astronomer, can you provide some links? Not that I doubt you, but evidence is always appreciated :-)