Watch These Stunning Models of the Largest Star Map Ever Created

The European Gaia telescope releases data on 1.7 billion stars.
April 26, 2018, 2:30pm

Since its launch in December 2013, the European Space Agency’s Gaia observatory has been building the largest and most detailed 3D star catalog in history. Located some 1.5 million kilometers (932,000 miles) from Earth, the telescope constantly scans our solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, and the wider universe beyond, to log information about the billions of stars and other objects that inhabit these cosmic frontiers.

On Wednesday, ESA released the second major batch of Gaia’s data, based on surveys completed by the observatory between July 2014 and May 2016 (the first release occurred in September 2016).

With this update, the catalog has now recorded the position and brightness of 1.7 billion stars, the color of 1.4 billion stars, and the surface temperature of 161 million stars, according to a video summary of the results. While this is still only a fraction of the estimated 200 to 400 billion stars in our galaxy alone, the wealth of data enables scientists to model known stars in exquisite detail. Take this model of the Hyades cluster, some 153 light years from Earth, which is rendered in three dimensions.

By measuring stellar parallax, which is the apparent motion of individual stars when observed from opposite sides of Earth’s orbit, ESA scientists were also able to plot out the trajectories of hundreds of millions of stars, and approximate their distances from Earth. For a visual demonstration of parallax studies, check out this 360-degree simulation of the effect.

In addition to building this unprecedented star map, Gaia has also been studying our solar backyard. The new infodump includes Gaia’s first asteroid survey, which tracked 14,099 small objects within the solar system. Future studies aim to map out the asteroid belt, and provide context for the origins and evolution of the solar system.

Gaia has also been focusing some of its attention beyond the Milky Way by logging about half a million quasars, which are extremely energetic galaxies located several billions of light years from Earth.

Image: ESA

The best part? All of this information is freely available. Check it out for yourself at this link, and bask in the sheer multitude of spacey data. Stay tuned for more giant downloads from the telescope, because it has been cleared to continue its work until 2020.

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