The European Space Agency (ESA) has spent the past three years scanning and cataloguing the heavens with its Gaia spacecraft, and the fruits of those labors have finally been unveiled.
The ESA has released a massively intricate star map featuring the precise locations of more than 1.1 billion stars. Gaia was launched in 2013, and has been scanning ever since. The release is part of the ESA’s larger project to assemble the most detailed 3D map ever made of our Milky Way galaxy. As part of that process, the map includes the precise position in the sky and the brightness of 1,142 million stars. Along with positions, it also includes distances and motions for more than 2 million stars.
“Gaia is at the forefront of astrometry, charting the sky at precisions that have never been achieved before,” Alvaro Giménez, ESA’s Director of Science, said in a statement. “Today’s release gives us a first impression of the extraordinary data that await us and that will revolutionize our understanding of how stars are distributed and move across our Galaxy.”
By mapping the Milky Way in such intricate detail, scientists hope the eventual finished product can give us a better understanding of the galaxy and our place in it. We’ll eventually be able to track distances and locations among celestial bodies even better. Once we actually start traversing the stars, that detail will almost certainly come in handy.