Nick Risinger traveled to South Africa to view unfamiliar skies. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

— Nick Risinger has always gazed up at the sky. But last year the amateur astronomer and photographer quit his job as a marketing director in Seattle and lugged six synchronized cameras about 60,000 miles to capture an image of the entire night sky.

Risinger, 28, set up his rack of cameras in high-elevation locales in the western United States and South Africa, timing his shoots around new moons when nights were long and dark. He programmed his cameras to track the stars as they moved across the sky and simultaneously snapped thousands of photos.

He then stitched 37,440 exposures together into a spectacular, panoramic sky survey that he has posted online at www.skysurvey.org. The photo reveals a 360-degree view of the Milky Way, planets and stars in their natural colors. Viewers can zoom in on portions of the 5,000-megapixel image to find Orion or the Large Magellanic Cloud.

“I wanted to share what I thought was possible,” said Risinger. “We don’t see it like this. This is much brighter. On a good night in Seattle, you’ll see 20 or 30 stars. This, in its full size, you’ll see 20 [million] to 30 million. Everything is amplified.”

Other sky surveys have preceded this one, including the Digitized Sky Survey, a source for Google Sky. Many serve scientific purposes and were shot in red and blue to measure the temperature of stars, Risinger said. He added a third color, green, for extra depth and richness, he said.

“This is not a scientifically useful image. This is for educational and artistic appreciation,” Risinger said, adding that he wasn’t motivated by money but hopes to sell prints and other products to keep the Web site running.

To capture the entire night sky in a year, Risinger plotted out an exact schedule of images he needed from the Northern and Southern hemispheres. He divided the sky into 624 uniform sections and entered those coordinates into the computer.

“The sheer amount of work was mind-boggling,” he said. “It’s not a wing-it kind of project. You have to plan how you’re going to get the entire sky. And you do that by dividing it up into pieces and knowing what time you need to collect those pieces, because as the Earth goes around the sun, things come in and out of view.”

In March of last year, Risinger traveled to the desert near Tonapah, Nev., and took the first photos of what he eventually called his Photopic Sky Survey. When he realized the work was too monumental, Risinger quit his job to devote himself full time to the project. He also persuaded his retired father to join him.

Their travels took them to places where light pollution was low and to higher altitudes where there was less water vapor — near the Chiricahua Mountains in Arizona, near Fort Davis, Tex., and Lassen National Forest in California. He found himself staking out stars in freezing temperatures in Telluride, Colo., and looking to the skies in South Africa, where none of the Southern Hemisphere’s constellations were recognizable to him.

Each night, Risinger set the six cameras — high-end monochrome astrophotography imagers equipped with different filters — to point in the exact same spot and continuously feed his laptop with images. He monitored the photographs in real time and passed the dark hours eating sunflower seeds. Meanwhile, his dad slept.

Back in Seattle, Risinger began piecing the panoramic image together in January. He finished the project a couple of weeks ago, and has received thousands of hits on his Web site.

“It was always hard to describe what I was doing that would make sense to people that aren’t familiar with astronomy. But once they see it, they get it.”

— Associated Press