For the past five years, Chattanooga-based astrophotographer Matt Harbison has poured more than 500 hours into capturing the minute details of the Orion constellation, an immense undertaking that’s culminated in a stunning 2.5 gigapixel image. In its entirety, “Project Orion” is composed of 2,508 individual shots meticulously stitched together into a fiery, star-studded mosaic.
In a statement about the monumental project, Harbison writes that his fascination with the neblua began in childhood during camping trips and Boy Scout excursions and later, as he drove to high school and college. Orion “was always there, seemingly inconspicuous. I have always felt a connection to this cosmic way-finder. Big decisions and events in my life came and went, yet those stars seemed to always find their way into my consciousness,” he says.
Harbison began by photographing Andromeda in 2011 before shifting his focus to Orion in 2013. He traveled from Tennessee to Texas to capture the nebula at various points and often camped out with a group of astrophotographers in ice fishing tents. He explains the lengthy process:
The image posed many problems from the start—balancing differing sky conditions per night, aligning to the same star position each and every night, and meticulously returning to a position just a few thousand pixels North, South, East, or West. 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.
After gathering hundreds of individual shots, Harbison realized he needed to update his equipment as the scope of the image grew—for specifics on the telescopes, cameras, and software used, check out this statement. “The project amasses a total of 44 TB across 21 hard drives, 7 laptops, and 3 desktops, with my 4th and final desktop recently completed,” he says.
Now finished, the composite image is available for exploration on Harbison’s site. Follow him on Instagram and YouTube, where he shares his space-centric findings, and check out this video to dive deeper into his process. (via PetaPixel)