Published: Wed, April 25, 2018
Research | By Raquel Erickson

Biggest ever 3D map of the galaxy pinpoints 1.7 billion stars

Biggest ever 3D map of the galaxy pinpoints 1.7 billion stars

One can get to see the exact positions, colors, motions, and brightness of those 1.3 billion stars of our Milky Way in the 3D map.

With all this data, "we can make a map of the whole night sky", said Brown, who described the end result as "stunning".

GAIA's all-sky view shows the Milky Way and neighboring galaxies. But at that time the map only had the brightness and location information of those stars.

The president of the Data Processing And Analysis Consortium (DPAC) of Gaia, Anthony Brown, was the one in charge of showing the first maps created after "translating" the binary code and the images sent by Gaia satellite.

The eagerly-anticipated catalog was compiled from data gathered by Gaia on some 1.7 billion stars over 22 months in 2014-2016, from its unique vantage point in space about 1.5 million kilometers (930,000 miles) from Earth.

Further data releases are planned in the coming years. Some were measured as many as 70 times. Until recently, much of the galaxy's contents have been obscured by gas and dust, making it hard to discern its structure from our vantage point. Gaia mainly focused on measuring the positions and distances of stars with unprecedented precision. Only the motions of around two million stars were captured by Gaia. These objects are used in the survey as beacons that define a reference frame for the celestial coordinates of all other objects in the Gaia catalogue, something that is routinely done in radio waves but now, for the first time, is also available at optical wavelengths.

The ESA's project, Gaia, opens new roads for astronomers to study the origin and evolution of the Milky Way. Also, it provided the measurements of parallax (small displacement in the apparent position of a star, caused by the annual translation of the Earth) and the movements of more than 1,3 billion stars in our galaxy.

"Even in the neighbourhood of the Sun, which is the region we thought we understood best, Gaia is revealing new and exciting features". Gaia: 3-dimensional census of the Milky Way Galaxy, Contemporary Physics (2018).

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