Astronomy scientists Unveiled the most accurate 3D map of the Milky Way to date, An achievement that promises to shed new light on the way the galaxy works and the mysteries of the wider universe.
The vast online atlas was compiled from data collected by Europeans Void The agency’s Gaia Observatory, which has been surveying the sky since its launch in 2013, from Kourou in French Guiana.
The map contains enough detail for astronomers to measure the acceleration of the solar system and calculate the mass of the galaxy. These, in turn, will provide clues about how the solar system formed and the rate at which the universe has expanded since the dawn of time.
Nicholas Walton, ESA Gaia Science Team Member at the Institute Astronomy In Cambridge, he compared the effort to fill in the blanks on ancient maps that marked unknown regions with the assertion that “here are dragons”.
“What we’re really doing here is getting a very detailed map of the local universe in three dimensions for stars up to a few hundred light-years away,” he said.
By mapping the positions and movements of the stars, the probe has revealed devastating processes beyond the edge of the Milky Way. The faint stream of stars observed between two nearby galaxies is evidence that the much larger Large Magellanic Cloud is steadily eating up the smaller, smaller Magellanic Cloud.
Many of the objects that Gaia detects are quasars, which are very distant and intensely bright objects powered by black holes more than a billion times the mass of the sun. By measuring the movement of the solar system relative to it, Gaia data shows that the solar system is falling towards the center of the Milky Way with an acceleration of about 7 mm per second each year.
Gaia, known as the Galaxy Surveyor, orbits the planet from a stable gravitational point known as Lagrange Point at 930,000 miles from Earth in the opposite direction to the sun. Over the past seven years, the probe has measured the locations and velocities of nearly two billion stars. Besides revealing the paths of cosmic consumption, the data allow astronomers to compile the distribution of matter in the Milky Way, through which they would directly estimate its mass.
Lagrange points are regions of space where gravitational forces tend to hold objects in place. For GAIA, this means that a minimum of fuel is required to maintain its position. The distant orbit has another advantage: It’s far enough from Earth to avoid light pollution that ruins its view of the stars.
Fleur Van Lewin, who directs data processing for Gaia at the Institute of Astronomy, said the dataset allows astronomers to “forensically analyze our stellar neighbors, and address critical questions about the origin and future of our galaxy.”
“For thousands of years, we have been busy observing and detailing the stars and their exact locations as they have expanded humanity’s understanding of our universe,” said Caroline Harper, Head of Space Science at the British Space Agency.
“Gaia has been staring at the sky for the past seven years, mapping the locations and speeds of stars. Thanks to his telescopes, today we have the most detailed 3D atlas of the billion-star class ever compiled.