More accurate map of the Milky Way reveals hidden stars and earthquakes

Madrid, (EFE).- The latest publication of data from the Gaia catalog includes new and improved information on almost 2,000 million stars in the Milky Way and “surprising discoveries”, such as the observation of stellar earthquakes and unknown stars.

The third installment of this map also contains the largest set of data collected to date on binary stars, thousands of objects in the solar system -such as asteroids and moons of planets-, and from outside the Milky Way, such as millions of galaxies and very luminous objects that contain a supermassive black hole, or quasars.

Gaia is a mission of the European Space Agency (ESA) launched in 2013 to create the most accurate and comprehensive multidimensional map of the Milky Way, which will help astronomers reconstruct the past (and future) evolution of our galaxy over billions of years.

At the press conference to present these data, the Director General of the ESA, Josef Aschbacher, stressed that today “is an exciting day” expected “for a long time” because this catalog “will open the doors to a new science in the Milky Way”.

And it is that the observations of Gaia are “extremely fascinating”, thanks, mainly, to an “unprecedented precision”. The catalog shows the largest chemical map of the galaxy and the 3D motions of our solar neighborhood and the smaller galaxies around us.

Thus, Gaia expands the information on the chemical composition, temperature, color, mass, age and speed at which the stars approach or move away from us (radial speed), which has been collected with spectroscopy, a technique that decomposes the light of stars and reveals what they are made of (their DNA), giving us crucial information about their origin.

And although the observatory was not designed for that, Gaia has been able to detect small movements on the surface of a star (earthquakes) that can change its shape and has been able to detect vibrations considered tsunamis on a large scale.

Another novelty is that the new catalog adds information on more than 800,000 binary systems and 156,000 asteroids that will help delve into the origin of our Solar System, and data on ten million variable stars, quasars and galaxies outside our cosmic neighborhood.

Gaia has also identified stars that originally came from galaxies other than our own. All these data published today were collected between July 25, 2014 and May 28, 2017 and, in total, have given rise to fifty scientific articles, nine of them dedicated to explaining the great potential of the information collected by Gaia, a mission equipped with a billion-pixel camera, two optical telescopes and a spectrometer.

In statements to EFE, the coordinator of scientific operations of the Gaia project, Rocío Guerra, said that the publication of these data is “a true revolution for astronomy that will give scientists the most precise and complete data available to date”.

For Guerra, the important thing about having these data is that they can “significantly” improve the classification of stars and understand their evolution “like never before”, and also allow “reconstructing the past and predicting the future of our galaxy over a period of time of millions of years in an amazing way.

More accurate map of the Milky Way reveals hidden stars and earthquakes

In summary, this publication provides “an unprecedented wealth of data that will allow astronomers to make extraordinary progress in understanding the Milky Way and the universe in general over the next few decades”, assured Guerra.

The scientist has advanced that there will be a fourth and a fifth publication of data – the fourth, from 2025 and will be based on 66 months of observations, and the fifth -not before 2030- will be generated from all the observations that Gaia take during its operational life.

“With many more observations, the final data will be even more complete and precise” and will include, among others, the complete catalogs of astrometry (positions, distances and movements of stars) and photometry (brightness), many more millions of spectra or lists of exoplanets .

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The processing of scientific data from Gaia has been carried out by a team of 450 scientists and engineers from twenty countries, most of them European, and their results will be available to the entire scientific community.

“Gaia will make discoveries that more specialized missions could not. This is one of its strengths. We can’t wait to see how the astronomical community dives into our new data to learn more about our galaxy and its environment than we could ever imagine,” concludes Gaia project scientist Timo Prusti.

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