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Taking the Galactic Census

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Updated: 6 min 20 sec ago

Gaia’s new data takes us to the Milky Way’s anticentre and beyond

Thu, 2020-12-03 09:00

The motion of stars in the outskirts of our galaxy hints at significant changes in the history of the Milky Way. This and other equally fascinating results come from a set of papers that demonstrate the quality of ESA’s Gaia Early third Data Release (EDR3), which is made public today.

Bridge of stars

Thu, 2020-12-03 09:00
Image: Bridge of stars

Gaia Data Processing and Analysis Consortium

Thu, 2020-12-03 09:00
Image: Gaia Data Processing and Analysis Consortium

The colour of the sky from Gaia’s Early Data Release 3

Thu, 2020-12-03 09:00
Image: The colour of the sky from Gaia’s Early Data Release 3

Gaia’s stellar motion for the next 400 thousand years

Thu, 2020-12-03 09:00
Image: Gaia’s stellar motion for the next 400 thousand years

Gaia’s Early Data Release 3 in numbers

Thu, 2020-12-03 09:00
Image: Gaia’s Early Data Release 3 in numbers

Gaia's Milky Way discoveries

Thu, 2020-11-26 14:00
Video: 00:01:00

ESA's Gaia mission is surveying more than a billion stars in our cosmic neighbourhood to chart the history and evolution of our home galaxy, the Milky Way. This video highlights some of the mission's discoveries based on the first 22 months of scanning the sky.


- Koppelman, Villalobos, Helmi, Kapteyn Astronomical Institute, University of Groningen, The Netherlands
- ESA - European Space Agency
- Stefan Payne-Wardenaar
- ESA/Hubble, NASA, L. Calçada; CC BY 4.0
- ESA (artist’s impression and composition); Marchetti et al 2018 (star positions and trajectories); NASA/ESA/Hubble (background galaxies), CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Five fascinating Gaia revelations about the Milky Way

Mon, 2020-09-21 08:31

With its two releases of data in September 2016 and April 2018, Gaia has truly revolutionised the study of the Milky Way. It ushered in the golden age of galactic archaeology, a discipline that searches for evidence of past galactic events in the characteristics and behaviour of stars and stellar populations that we see today. Gaia does not only reveal details of the Galaxy’s structure. The mission creates an awe-inspiring astronomical movie reconstructing the Milky Way’s evolution to the past and future over billions of years. Here are the five interesting discoveries that Gaia has made about the galaxy that we are part of.

Podcast: ESA Explores risky asteroids with Astronomer Marco Micheli

Wed, 2020-07-01 15:55

Podcast: ESA Explores risky asteroids with Astronomer Marco Micheli

Podcast: ESA Explores risky asteroids with Astronomer Marco Micheli

Gaia revolutionises asteroid tracking

Wed, 2020-07-01 14:12

ESA’s Gaia space observatory is an ambitious mission to construct a three-dimensional map of our galaxy by making high-precision measurements of over one billion stars. However, on its journey to map distant suns, Gaia is revolutionising a field much closer to home. By accurately mapping the stars, it is helping researchers track down lost asteroids.

Galactic crash may have triggered Solar System formation

Mon, 2020-05-25 15:00

The formation of the Sun, the Solar System and the subsequent emergence of life on Earth may be a consequence of a collision between our galaxy, the Milky Way, and a smaller galaxy called Sagittarius, discovered in the 1990s to be orbiting our galactic home.

One billion stars and counting – the sky according to Gaia’s second data release

Mon, 2020-05-25 12:00
Video: 00:01:20

Launched in 2013, ESA’s Gaia satellite has been scanning the sky to measure the positions, distances and motions of more than one billion stars in our galaxy, the Milky Way. The goal of the mission is to create the most detailed galactic map ever made, in order to investigate the Milky Way’s past and future history like never before.

This animation shows the satellite as it scans great circles around the sky. Eventually, the sky is unfolded to reveal the view of the Milky Way and neighbouring galaxies, based on measurements of nearly 1.7 billion stars from the second Gaia data release. The map shows the total brightness and colour of stars observed by Gaia in each portion of the sky between July 2014 and May 2016.
Brighter regions indicate denser concentrations of especially bright stars, while darker regions correspond to patches of the sky where fewer bright stars are observed. In the middle of the image, the Galactic centre appears vivid and teeming with stars.

Sprinkled across the image are also many globular and open clusters – groupings of stars held together by their mutual gravity, as well as entire galaxies beyond our own. The two bright objects in the lower right of the image are the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, two dwarf galaxies orbiting the Milky Way.

The animation ends with a pan over the Galactic plane, the bright horizontal structure that hosts most of the stars in our home Galaxy. Darker regions across the Galactic plane correspond to foreground clouds of interstellar gas and dust, which absorb the light of stars located further away, behind the clouds. Many of these conceal stellar nurseries where new generations of stars are being born.  

The all-sky image from the second Gaia data release, published on 25 April 2018, is available here.

Milky Way’s warp caused by galactic collision, Gaia data suggests

Mon, 2020-03-02 16:00

Astronomers have pondered for years why our galaxy, the Milky Way, is warped. Data from ESA’s star-mapping satellite Gaia suggests the distortion might be caused by an ongoing collision with another, smaller, galaxy, which sends ripples through the galactic disc like a rock thrown into water.

Global Gaia campaign reveals secrets of stellar pair

Tue, 2020-01-21 09:00

A 500-day global observation campaign spearheaded more than three years ago by ESA’s galaxy-mapping powerhouse Gaia has provided unprecedented insights into the binary system of stars that caused an unusual brightening of an even more distant star.

Gaia astronomical revolution

Tue, 2019-10-22 08:00
Video: 00:03:00

Launched in December 2013, the Gaia mission is revolutionising our understanding of the Milky Way. The space telescope is mapping our galaxy in unprecedented detail – measuring the position, movement and distance of stars.

At a meeting in Groningen in the Netherlands, scientists have been discussing the challenge of processing and visualising Gaia data.

Latest science results from the mission, also discussed in this A and B-roll, include a new understanding of how stars cluster together and the fact that today’s Milky Way was formed from a merger of galaxies.

More details on these science results:
Gaia untangles the starry strings of the Milky Way
Gaia uncovers major event in the formation of the Milky Way

Gaia untangles the starry strings of the Milky Way

Wed, 2019-08-28 08:00

Rather than leaving home young, as expected, stellar ‘siblings’ prefer to stick together in long-lasting, string-like groups, finds a new study of data from ESA’s Gaia spacecraft.

Astronomers spy Europa blocking distant star – thanks to Gaia

Thu, 2019-07-25 08:00

On 31 March 2017, Jupiter’s moon Europa passed in front of a background star – a rare event that was captured for the first time by ground-based telescopes thanks to data provided by ESA’s Gaia spacecraft.

Gaia starts mapping our galaxy’s bar

Tue, 2019-07-16 13:00

The first direct measurement of the bar-shaped collection of stars at the centre of our Milky Way galaxy has been made by combining data from ESA’s Gaia mission with complementary observations from ground- and space-based telescopes.

Gaia’s biggest operation since launch and commissioning

Mon, 2019-07-15 14:00

On Tuesday 16 July, teams at ESA’s mission control will perform an ‘orbit change manoeuvre’ on the Gaia space observatory – the biggest operation since the spacecraft was launched in 2013.

Asteroids old and new

Fri, 2019-06-28 08:00

A visualisation of the orbits of asteroids observed by ESA’s Gaia satellite, including four recent discoveries