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Satellite yields stunning 3-D map of Milky Way

Updated April 26, 2018

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Gaia satellite has produced a “stunning” 3-D map of more than a billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy.— AFP
Gaia satellite has produced a “stunning” 3-D map of more than a billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy.— AFP

PARIS: Europe’s Gaia satellite has produced a “stunning” 3-D map, published on Wednesday, of more than a billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy, complete with their distance from Earth, their colour, and their motion through space.

The eagerly-anticipated catalogue 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 kilometres (930,000 miles) from Earth.

“The dataset is very rich and we believe it will revolutionise astronomy and our understanding of the Milky Way,” Gaia’s scientific operations manager Uwe Lammers told AFP of the massive data release. “This catalogue is the most precise, most complete catalogue that has ever been produced. It allows studies which have not been possible before.”

Launched in 2013, Gaia gathers data on about 100,000 stars per minute — some 500 million measurements per day. Its first map was published in September 2016, with about 1.15 billion stars.

The map contains 1.7 billion stars “for which we can tell where they are in the sky with very high accuracy, and how bright they are,” said Anthony Brown of the Gaia Data Processing and Analysis Consortium.

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

“You see the whole Milky Way in motion around its axis.” Gaia also revealed the orbits of some 14,000 “solar system objects” — mapped as an intricate spiderweb of space rocks orbiting the Sun. “It represents the most accurate survey ever of asteroids in the Solar System,” said Brown.

More will be added in future updates. Information sent to Earth by Gaia is collated by 450 scientists from 20 countries.

Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2018