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Gaia telescope unveils new map of the Milky Way

Gaia telescope unveils new map of the Milky Way

The European Gaia space telescope program reveals, on Monday, a new version of the Milky Way, containing a large amount of information about about two billion stars that the program follows its path and analyzes its properties.

The astronomer from the Côte d’Azur Observatory in France, Francois Minniard, told AFP that this telescope, which draws a detailed map of the galaxy, is distinguished by its multi-use in the field of astrophysics, noting that “not a single astronomer will not use his data directly or indirectly.”

As of 10:00 GMT on Monday, astronomers will be able to benefit from the third base index of the data collected by the tool on a wide range of celestial bodies, along with about fifty scientific articles.

Minar explained that this data relates to the nearest celestial bodies, numbering more than 150 thousand asteroids in the solar system to the planet Earth, and the instrument “calculated its orbit with unparalleled accuracy”, as well as new measurements related to more than 1.8 billion stars from the Milky Way. Beyond this galaxy, which consists of groups of other galaxies and distant quasars.

The Gaia telescope was launched for the European Space Agency and began its work in 2013. Gaia is located in a privileged location called “L2”, 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, opposite the direction of the Sun.

clear the sky

This telescope “scans the sky and captures everything you see”, and it monitors and observes a very small part (not exceeding one percent) of the stars in the Milky Way galaxy, to which it belongs, said Micha Haywood, an astronomer at the Paris-BSL Observatory. Planet Earth, which has a diameter of more than one hundred thousand light-years.

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But Gaia doesn’t just draw a simple map, its telescope connects to a billion-pixel photographic sensor while commercial cameras are only capable of millions. Two astronomical and photometric instruments and one spectroscopy interpret the photons, which are real light signals captured in this way. Haywood explained that Gaia provides “comprehensive monitoring of the positions of what is moving in the sky, and this is what is happening for the first time.” She added that “the view of the galaxy was very limited” before “Gaia”.

Hipparcos, Gaia’s predecessor, has revolutionized the field since it was launched by the European Space Agency in 1997, cataloging more than 110,000 celestial bodies. Gaia has a measurement accuracy of up to a thousand times greater.

As for “Gaia”, its role is not limited to providing astronomers with information about the locations and movement of a large number of stars, but also measures their physical and chemical properties and their age, which is an element of equal importance.

Astronomer Paula Di Matteo from the Paris-BSL Observatory also explained that Gaia produces a large amount of information “that sheds light on the evolution of stars in the past, and thus the evolution of the galaxy.”

big discoveries

Di Matteo indicated that this was originally “one of the reasons that prompted the construction” of the “Gaia” telescope, as “stars are distinguished by living billions of years, so their measurement is like a fossilized measurement that indicates the state of the galaxy at the time of its formation.”

And this overview of the movements of the stars of the Milky Way has previously contributed to major discoveries. Through the second data index published in 2018, astronomers showed that the galaxy that includes Earth “merged” with another galaxy 10 billion years ago.

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Thousands of scientific articles have been based on the second index since its first publication in 2016. The data flow requires a dedicated floor chain for processing and analysis that includes supercomputers from six European computing centers, employing 450 specialists, said Francois Menard, who was in charge of it.

He added that the program could not do its job without this processing chain, as Gaia produces daily data on 700 million star sites, 150 million photometric measurements and 14 million spectra. “Human-led” algorithms are allowing this torrent of raw data to be converted into measurements that astronomers can use.

It took five years to prepare the third index, which includes monitoring data from 2014 to 2017. The final version is expected to be released in 2030, when Gaia will complete the space survey in 2025.