Before today, April 25th, scientists only knew so much about our galaxy, the Milky Way. We know there are about 100 billion stars in our home galaxy, but until now, we haven’t been able to get up close and personal with each one. Enter Gaia, a European Space Agency mission that just gifted scientists precise measurements of 1.7 billion stars in the Milky Way.
This means scientists now have access to exact distances, brightnesses, motions, temperatures, and colors of more than one billion stars. According to NPR, this new information will produce the most detailed 3D map of the Milky Way ever.
The Gaia spacecraft, launched in 2013, is currently orbiting around the sun about one million miles away from Earth. The 1.7 billion stars the spacecraft has captured so far are just a tiny fraction of what the Milky Way contains. However, this bit of information will keep scientists busy for the rest of their careers.
The Gaia satellite was also able to record the velocity of 7 million stars as they move toward or away from the spacecraft, and it also captured the surface temperature of 161 million stars. The speed at which the Gaia craft was able to collect this data is truly incredible.
To put its collection speed into context, Gaia first sent back information in 2016. It had only been able to record motion and the distance of about 2 million stars.
Even though this data dump is monumental in itself, scientists know the best is yet to come. NPR reports that researchers predict a huge influx of new discoveries in the coming hours and days as scientists begin to pore over the data.
The Gaia mission was originally set as a five-year mission, but it is now expected to be extended to 2020. This means we’ll most likely see more star recordings, and perhaps even exoplanets orbiting around them.
This is an exciting day for scientists, astronomers, and earthings alike. Stay tuned to see what surprises unfold.