New star map gives insight into Milky Way

A brand new star map compiled by the Gaia project will help create the most accurate 3D map of the Milky Way galaxy to date.
By Joseph Scalise | Apr 25, 2018
The Gaia mission led by astronomers at the European Space Agency has given scientists the measurements of 1.7 billion stars across our galaxy.

This project is unprecedented, and provides one of the most accurate views of the Milky Way to date. Not only does it enable scientists to view our galaxy in a brand new way, but it will also likely foster a range of new space studies.

"This is a very big deal," said David Hogg, an astrophysicist at New York University and the Flatiron Institute, according to NPR. "I've been working on trying to understand the Milky Way and the formation of the Milky Way for a large fraction of my scientific career, and the amount of information this is revealing in some sense is thousands or even hundreds of thousands of times larger than any amount of information we've had previously."

Scientists first launched the Gaia spacecraft in 2013. Since that time, it has orbited the sun roughly a million miles from Earth. Though it surveyed many number of stars, the probe has only charted roughly 1 percent of our galaxy's 100 billion celestial bodies.

Even so, the new information is unlike anything that has come before it.Never before have researchers had access to so much information concerning the exact colors, brightness, distances, and motions over a billion stars. As a result, the information will lead to the best 3D map of our galaxy ever created.

All of the new information now needs to be processed and will likely be incorporated into future studies. While scientists believe the data will lead to many new discoveries within the coming days, there is a lot of information to comb through. Understanding it all will likely take years or even decades of hard research.

"This is the data we're going to be working on for the rest of my career. Probably no data set will rival this," said Jackie Faherty, an astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History, according to Outer Places. "It's the excitement of the day that we see it. It's why we were up at 5 a.m. to get here. It's exciting to be around each other and trying to get the data all at once. It's a day we're going to remember."

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