Tuesday, October 4, 2022

New data from Europe’s Gaia mission will result in the most accurate depiction of the Milky Way to date

HomespaceNew data from Europe's Gaia mission will result in the most accurate...
This time, we will see all the way to the Milky Way's edge

The Gaia mission of the European Space Agency will reveal new data on June 13, and scientists cannot wait.

The next data dump will include information on roughly two billion of the sky’s brightest objects. According to scientists, the publication will accelerate the mapping of our Milky Way galaxy, allowing astronomers to view to the galaxy’s furthest reaches and differentiate finer structural elements than ever before.

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Since 2014, Gaia has been mapping our star neighbourhood, and each of its data dumps has led to enormous advances in our knowledge of the Milky Way. Astronomers have learnt the precise locations of a large number of stars, their distances from the Earth, and their velocities.

Information regarding the trajectories and movements of stars in three-dimensional space is becoming increasingly exact as a result of Gaia’s years of diligent sky scanning. The evolution of the structure of the galaxy gradually comes to life before the eyes of astronomers as finer features emerge.

The next publication will include information that was previously unavailable, including as the chemical compositions, ages, and masses of millions of stars.

Finer details

Eduardo Balbinot, a postdoctoral researcher in astrophysics at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, is one of the astronomers anxiously anticipating the publication on June 13. Balbinot is interested in globular clusters, the “smallest building blocks of galaxies”

Prior to billions of years ago, many globular clusters merged with the Milky Way after being pushed into its orbit by the galaxy’s gravitational pull. However, astronomers can still identify their remains amid the stars.

“Globular clusters are unique because they are broken apart [when they fall into the galaxy], yet they continue to exist in the sky as coherent groups of stars known as stellar streams,” Balbinot told Space.com. “Therefore, the first thing I will do after obtaining this enormous data collection is to search for these dispersed star streams.”

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Balbinot is excited to examine a big collection of observations of radial velocities, the motion of stars away from or toward the observer. It is difficult to acquire these measurements because stars are often so far that the variation recorded by Gaia over just human years is negligible. Nonetheless, the telescope, which accompanies the Earth in its orbit around the sun at Lagrange Point 2 (the same location as the James Webb Space Telescope), is becoming more adept at its mission. Balbinot and his colleagues intend to rebuild the finer structure of the Milky Way using these radial velocities.

Trajectories of stars in the Milky Way galaxy over the next 400,000 years based on measurements by the European Gaia mission. (Image credit: ESA/Gaia/DPAC)
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