In 2013, the European Space Agency launched the Gaia space observatory to create the largest and most accurate catalog of the stars with unmatched accuracy and precision. Two years ago, the ESA dropped Gaia’s first data release, which offered an expanded view of the Milky Way Galaxy. Today, the ESA updated Gaia’s observations with a new catalog of stars, and it goes far beyond the previous release.
Via CNET, the ESA’s director of science, Günther Hasinger, said "the observations collected by Gaia are redefining the foundations of astronomy." That’s not an exaggeration. The ESA’s Gaia DR2 release features 1.7 billion stars, which tracks their positions and motions. Gaia also analyzes “the brightness, colors, and surface temperatures of some stars, and the amount of space dust between us and them,” as well as the positions of over 14,000 asteroids.
In short, it’s the closest thing we have to a 3D map of the galaxy, and it’s going to take years for astronomers to thoroughly examine the data. In fact, there’s currently a hackathon in Manhattan featuring astrophysicists and scientists from across the globe who came together as a group to jointly look through Gaia’s findings as soon as they became available.
While Gaia’s new star chart is extremely impressive, it still represents only a small sampling of the stars in the universe. There will be future data releases from Gaia that will likely go even further, and its final star catalog may not arrive until sometime in the next decade.
For more information about Gaia and additional photos from the new star chart, you can visit the ESA’s official page.