June 28, 2022

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Building the Ultimate Milky Way Galaxy Map: Here’s What Scientists Have So Far

Alongside the incredible world of spaceflight, pioneering satellites and an incredible moon landing, the European Space Agency is focusing on one critical mission. It is simply “creating the most accurate and complete multidimensional map of the Milky Way”.

This ambitious endeavor is called Gaia, and for the past several years, the European Space Agency has been making solid progress towards making the dream come true. The scientists in this collaboration have collected tons of amazing data on more than a billion stars across our galaxy, recording every exciting detail along the way.

And on Monday, the team You have reached a huge checkpoint for the project.

Fortunately for us, it has also released some great visuals that include the treasure chest of cosmic secrets collected so far. This particular landmark is officially referred to as the Gaia 3 data release — and more importantly, it’s one that the European Space Agency says is “the most detailed Milky Way survey to date”.

In this dataset, you can not only see thousands of solar system objects such as asteroids, moons and other celestial marvels within our galaxy, but you can also see millions of galaxies and phenomena the outside Milky Way.

Photographing asteroids in our solar system on June 13, 2022.

The location of each asteroid was plotted at 12:00 CEST on June 13, 2022. Blue represents the interior of the Solar System, where asteroids are located near Earth, transit Mars, and the terrestrial planets. The main belt between Mars and Jupiter is green. The orange “clouds” correspond to the Trojan asteroids of Jupiter.

P. Tanga (Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur)

when you look at Statistics for this surveyIt really is jaw dropping. This new wealth of galactic intelligence includes about 6.6 million redshift candidate quasars, aka the very bright jets that occupy supermassive black holes, and possibly their exact locations. It includes 4.8 million candidate galaxies, about 813,000 multi-star systems, 2.3 million hot stars and much more.

Timo Prosti, Project Gaia scientist at ESA, said in a statement.

Map with bright spots depicting galaxies and cosmic clouds.

The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds appear as bright spots in the lower right corner of the image. The arc dwarf galaxy appears as a faint semi-vertical band below the center of the galaxy.

ESA/Gaia/DPAC/CU6, D. Katz, N. Leclerc, P. Sartoretti, and the CU6 team.

Some interstellar surprises

According to the team, among the most surprising discoveries in the Gaia 3 data release are strange phenomena called “starquakes”.

Stellar earthquakes are pretty much what they sound like – small movements on the surface of a star that can change its shape or form. Some of these ESA earthquakes compare to vibrations that we associate with “large-scale tsunamis” on Earth.

“Starquakes teach us a lot about stars, particularly their inner workings. Gaia opens a gold mine for ‘asteroseismology’ for massive stars,” said Connie Aerts of KU Leuven in Belgium and a member of the Gaia Collaboration, in a statement.

Seismology for the stars is what seismology means for the Earth, the study of earthquakes and other wave propagation. A summary of the stellar earthquake portion of the new Gaia data can be seen below.

Another startling revelation was that Gaia Binary Telescope – which harnesses a huge camera of 1 billion pixels – can reveal the chemical composition of the stars under study. This is a big deal that could revolutionize the field of astronomy.

In short, understanding the exact chemical details of lace astral bodies can help us decipher when they were born, where they were born, and the path they followed after they were born. It can reveal a timeline of the universe.

Using the new Gaia data, the team found that some stars have heavier elements than others. The heavier elements are often metals, and they distinguish themselves from the lighter elements because they have a different core structure.

Photographing the stars in the Milky Way, the most mineral-rich galaxy.

This full-sky view shows a sample of the Milky Way’s stars in the Gaia 3 data release. The color indicates stellar mineralization. Red stars are richer in minerals.

ESA / Gaia

But the key point here is that the lighter elements, from what experts know so far, are believed to be the only species present during the Big Bang. Essentially, this means that the Gaia 3 data release provides direct evidence of a super-diverse group of stars in our galaxy in terms of when and where they originated.

“This diversity is very important, because it tells the story of the formation of our galaxy,” Alejandra Recio Blanco of the Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur in France and a member of the Gaia Collaboration said in a statement. “It reveals the processes of migration within our galaxy and accumulation from the outer galaxies.”

Sky map showing the speed of the Milky Way's stars.

This sky map shows the Milky Way’s velocity field of about 26 million stars. Blue shows the parts of the sky where the average movement of the stars is towards us, while red shows where the average movement is moving away from us.

ESA/Gaia/DPAC/CU6, O. Snaith, D. Katz, P. Sartoretti, N. Leclerc, and the CU6 team.

Taking all of this a step further, displaying Gaia’s efforts kind of reminds us of our place in the universe. Mapping an area far, beyond the immediate vicinity of the Earth inevitably imposes human presence in perspective.

In the words of Ricio Blanco, “This clearly shows that our Sun, and we all belong to an ever-changing system, arose thanks to the assemblage of stars and gases of different origins.”

Other fascinating sightings with Gaia include more than 800 binary star systems, which refer to two stars orbiting each other, unlike our solar system’s unique Sun, and a new asteroid survey of 156,000 rocky bodies.

Multicolored depiction of asteroids in the Milky Way.

This image shows the orbits of more than 150,000 asteroids – from the inner parts of the Solar System to Trojan asteroids at the distance of Jupiter. The yellow circle in the center represents the sun. Blue represents the interior of the solar system, where there are asteroids close to Earth and transiting Mars and the terrestrial planets. The main belt between Mars and Jupiter is green. Jupiter red trojans.

P. Tanga (Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur)

“We can’t wait for the astronomy community to delve into our new data to discover more about our galaxy and its surroundings than we ever imagined,” Prostie said.

As for Gaia’s next steps, the team intends to continue the effort in what will eventually be the pinnacle of knowledge for our home galaxy, the Milky Way.

A depiction of our location in the Milky Way.

This image shows an artist’s impression of the Milky Way, above it an overlay showing the location and density of a young star sample from the Gaia 3 data release (in yellow-green). The sign “You are here” refers to the sun.

ESA / Kevin Jardine, Stefan Payne-Wardenaar

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