Milky Way: Stunning New 3D Map Shows More Than 1 Billion Stars

First Posted: Sep 16, 2016 05:20 AM EDT

The European Space Agency (ESA) has recently released the most comprehensive map of the Milky Way in 3D that shows a billion glittering stars. The catalog was compiled using data collected by ESA's Gaia spacecraft that has been star scanning since 2014. The newly released data and map includes precise information about the brightness and positions of a whopping 1.142 billion stars, in addition the motions and distances of over two million stars have also been gathered.

The Gaia spacecraft is on a five year mission, and has reportedly collected a phenomenal amount of information in just 14 months, since its launch in December 2013. The ultimate aim of the mission is to create the most accurate, detailed and comprehensive star catalog ever. "Gaia is at the forefront of astrometry, charting the sky at precisions that have never been achieved before," said Alvaro Giménez, Science Director at ESA.

Scientists have likened the map to Galileo's first star chart of the Orion, created during the early 17th century, for causing a new revolution. Incidentally, the 32 feet wide Gaia spacecraft, which has a one-billion pixel camera on board it, is currently located nine million miles away from Earth from where it scans the sky.

In addition to its final goal of creating the most detailed map of the Milky Way, the data collected by the spacecraft will also act as a guide for researchers in the future. The map will help scientists in knowing more about the history and structure of our galaxy, and the physical qualities, movements and positions of the stars. "To investigate our place in the Universe, from our local neighborhood, the Solar System, to Galactic and even grander, cosmological scales," said Anthony Brown, Gaia consortium chairman.

Interestingly, though the newly released 3D map shows more than one billion stars, it still represents only one percent of the Milky Way's stars. Food for thought that!

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