Scientists have in the past claimed that the earth and stars surrounding us are only a small fraction of our galaxy. The European Space Agency is providing more information on this by mapping the Milky Way Galaxy. The agency has just published the first data from its Gaia Mission – a project to draw the largest and most precise 3D map of our galaxy. One billion stars were mapped during this phase of this project.
Gaia spacecraft is responsible for mapping our galaxy. The 10-meter wide spaceship is basically a tube that sits on a big flat circle. It orbits around the sun and uses its two telescopes to assemble data and send it back to the earth to be compiled by scientists. Doing so is a very delicate challenge, with the agency comparing Gaia’s measuring abilities to measuring the diameter of a human hair when you are 600 miles away.
Gaia has been in the sky since 2014. It’s just released data features precise positions and brightness of 1.142 billion stars, plus motion and distance of more than 2 million stars. ESA scientists have used this data to create a stunning fly-through of a packed star cluster. Gaia mission in space will continue as it seeks to ultimately build the most comprehensive, detailed, and accurate star catalog.
Antony Brown, a lead scientist on the project, noted that the highly precise data that Gaia sent is a revolution in astrophysics. This information is already being used to identify 400 million new stars.
The full map of the one billion stars is expected to be released towards the end of next year. Scientists hope that the map can be useful in our endeavors to learn more about the origin and evolution of the galaxy.
While this may be the most ambitious galaxy-mapping endeavor yet, the vast amount of stars observed in this mission only reflects about 1% of all stars in the Milky Way galaxy.
Featured Image Credit:ESA / Gaia / DPAC