The European Space Agency (ESA) space observatory Gaia satellite released its second set of data (dubbed DR2) late last month. It was a significant event as it provided people with the biggest map of the galaxy collected as of yet. This contains an astounding 1.7 billion stars.
This second data set is the result of 22 months of work, but Gaia’s mission has been conducted over the past five years. Using astrometry, it has scanned each star about 70 times. In doing so, the Gaia telescope measured their positions and how they move. This allowed specialists to construct an actual image of our galaxy.
The Gaia Satellite and Its Impressive Mission
All of this would have been impossible in the very recent past. The sheer amount of computing technology needed for this is enormous. Also, a mere century ago, scientists could not even define precisely what our galaxy was or how it ended, let alone construct the sort of detailed map that the DR2 has managed to create.
“The observations collected by Gaia are redefining the foundations of astronomy,” states the mission’s science director, Günther Hasinger.
Gaia’s space mission began in 2013, with its first set of data being released in 2016. This “only” featured about 2 million stars. In the statement that accompanied DR2, ESA explained that this second data set covers the period in between July 2014 and May 2016. With a “much greater precision”, it helps pin down the positions of almost 1.7 billion stars.
It is said that, for some of the brighter stars, the level of precision is equivalent to someone on Earth “being able to spot a Euro coin lying on the surface of the moon.”
Not only is Gaia’s data now available to scientists, but ESA scientists have even gone as far as to create a virtual reality demonstration of the new data.
This is all inspiring news for us Earthlings, as we learn more about the vast cosmos and how it functions.
Image Source: Wikimedia