Gaia's first sky map of the Milky Way courtesy ESA
Gaia’s first sky map of the Milky Way courtesy ESA

This new catalogue is twice as precise and contains almost 20 times as many stars as the previous definitive reference for astrometry, the Hipparcos Catalogue.

The first catalogue of more than a billion stars from ESA’s Gaia satellite was published today – the largest all-sky survey of celestial objects to date. On its way to assembling the most detailed 3D map ever made of our Milky Way galaxy, Gaia has pinned down the precise position on the sky and the brightness of 1142 million stars.

Launched 1000 days ago, Gaia started its scientific work in July 2014. This first release is based on data collected during its first 14 months of scanning the sky, up to September 2015.

The two bright objects in the lower right of the image are the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, two dwarf galaxies orbiting the Milky Way. Other nearby galaxies are also visible, most notably Andromeda (also known as M31), the largest galactic neighbour to the Milky Way, in the lower left of the image. Below Andromeda is its satellite, the Triangulum galaxy (M33).

Transforming the raw information into useful and reliable stellar positions to a level of accuracy never possible before is an extremely complex procedure, entrusted to a pan-European collaboration of about 450 scientists and software engineers: the Gaia Data Processing and Analysis Consortium, or DPAC.

The stripes and other artefacts in the image reflect how Gaia scans the sky, and will gradually fade as more scans are made during the five-year mission. [You will see this clearly if you download the hi-rez version which is only 5Mb.]

I wish I was smart enough to say something smart about this. Pretty amazing. So very different in texture and one assumes application than the luscious pictures from Hubble that we know and love. Obviously, a very different set of technologies since they plan to continuously update the map over the next five years. Remarkable.
As for what it has to do with drones. Nada. Zip. Zilch. But it’s good for your brain and your spirit. Which should be enough.



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