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ESA Unveils Most Accurate Map of Milky Way, Discovers Never Before Seen Stars

Sep 25, 2016 04:38 AM EDT
Star Cluster
This image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows a giant cluster of about 3,000 stars called Westerlund 2. The cluster resides inside a vibrant stellar breeding ground known as Gum 29, located 20,000 light-years away in the constellation Carina. The comparatively young, 2-million-year-old star cluster contains some of our galaxy's hottest, brightest, and most massive stars.
(Photo : Flickr/Creative Commons/Zolt Levay)

In 2013, European Space Agency (ESA) has launched the Gaia spacecraft to capture the most accurate map ever of the Milky Way. ESA has finally shared the spectacular map based on 14 months of observation, starting July 2014.

According to Science Alert, Gaia has plotted some 1,142 million stars. Through the new revolutionary mapping technique, Gaia was able to pin down 20 times the number of stars captured by ESA's Hipparcos satellite, which was used between 1989 and 1993.

National Geographic notes that of those numbers, 400 million were never before seen, implying that the milky way is in fact larger and wider than previously imagined. Gaia was able to spy on stars up to 30,000 light-years away.

"Gaia is at the forefront of astrometry, charting the sky at precisions that have never been achieved before," says Alvaro Giménez, ESA's Director of Science, in a press release.

"Today's release gives us a first impression of the extraordinary data that await us and that will revolutionise our understanding of how stars are distributed and move across our Galaxy."

According to ESA, Gaia is originally set to track down only one thousand million (one billion) stars in our Galaxy, but the number has been upgraded and revised upwards.

Still, the detailed map of the milky way only represents about one percent of the Milky Way's stars.

Floor van Leeuwen of the University of Cambridge, who manages Gaia's data processing, told The Guardian, "It looks very much like we underestimated the number of stars. We think we will see 2-2.5bn stars."

The first release is just one of the planned five maps that will be released trough 2022.

"The beautiful map we are publishing today shows the density of stars measured by Gaia across the entire sky, and confirms that it collected superb data during its first year of operations," says Timo Prusti, Gaia project scientist at ESA.

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