|Many thanks to Palomar Skies for posting this 1959 photograph of the Andromeda Galaxy|
That desire became a reality today. With thanks and accolades to NASA and the European Space Agency.
Go to this site: http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/heic1502a/zoomable/. Give it time to load. It is a photograph of the Andromeda Galaxy with 1.5 billion pixels (as noted at IFLS, the average high resolution monitor has just over 2 million pixels). The photograph resolves individual stars in the Andromeda Galaxy. The zoomed photograph contains 100 million stars, and yet covers only about 10% of the entire galaxy. You can download the entire photograph, but you would need around 4.3 gigabytes on your computer to store it. And need around 600 high definition screens to show the entire image.
This is an extraordinary accomplishment, perhaps the most detailed picture ever produced. The first view in human history of the totality of stars in a galaxy outside our own. I doubt that 100 million people have looked at this photo yet, which means you could choose just about any star in the zoomed close up and realize you are the only human who has ever observed this star. The only person who has wondered what planets it has, whether life ever emerged on the planet's surface. Sure, there are enough stars in our own galaxy to do that sort of thing, but before this picture existed, you couldn't do it out there.
In 2018, a new space telescope, the Webb, will launch, which will have mirrors amounting to a diameter of 21.3 feet, compared to Hubble's 7.8 feet. Thirty years elapsed between the best photo ever taken from Earth of the Andromeda Galaxy, the picture from my childhood, and this remarkable image from the Hubble. The Webb Space Telescope represents thirty years of technological advances beyond that of the Hubble Telescope. What incredible things will we see next?