The European Space Agency (ESA) Gaia mission has released a new star map of the Milky Way, giving us the most detailed view of our galaxy to date. Launched in December 2013 from Kourou, French Guiana, the mission of the Gaia space observatory is to create the largest and most detailed 3D space catalog in existence.
To do this, it uses what the ESA calls the ‘largest digital camera in the Solar System,’ a one-billion-pixel camera made up of more than 200 CCD sensors.
Gaia’s sky in colour. Image provided by ESA
This new set of data, released on April 25th, details the location and movement of more than 1. 3 billion stars. For context, the first set of data released by the ESA in May 2016 contained similar information of a mere two million stars. It’s not only the position and movement of the stars either.
As well as positions, the data include brightness information of all surveyed stars and colour measurements of nearly all, plus information on how the brightness and colour of half a million variable stars change over time. It also contains the velocities along the line of sight of a subset of seven million stars, the surface temperatures of about a hundred million and the effect of interstellar dust on 87 million.
The new information will be used for many years to come by scientists all over the world. "Gaia will greatly advance our understanding of the Universe on all cosmic scales," says Timo Prusti, Gaia project scientist at ESA, in the announcement blog post. "Even in the neighbourhood of the Sun, which is the region we thought we understood best, Gaia is revealing new and exciting features. "
The ESA expects many more datasets to be released in future years, with the full and final catalogue set to be published sometime in the 2020s. Originally, Gaia was only set to operate until mid-2019, but the ESA has already approved an extension to its mission that should see it functioning well into 2020.
You can access the data from Gaia’s first release on the ESA’s archive site and view a collection of 360-degree videos in a dedicated VR page.. dpreview.com