FRANCE: The Gaia space probe on Monday unveiled its latest discoveries in its quest to map the Milky Way in unprecedented detail, surveying nearly two million stars and revealing mysterious “starquakes” which sweep across the fiery giants like vast tsunamis.
The mission’s third data set, which was released to eagerly waiting astronomers around the world at 1000 GMT, “revolutionises our understanding of the galaxy,” the European Space Agency (ESA) said.
ESA Director-General Josef Aschbacher told a press conference that it was “a fantastic day for astronomy” because the data “will open the floodgates for new science, for new findings of our universe, of our Milky Way”.
Some of the map’s new insights came close to home, such as a catalogue of more than 156,000 asteroids in our Solar System “whose orbits the instrument has calculated with incomparable precision,” Francois Mignard, a member of the Gaia team, told AFP.
Gaia also sees beyond the Milky Way, spotting 2.9 million other galaxies as well as 1.9 million quasars — the stunningly bright hearts of galaxies powered by supermassive black holes.
The Gaia spacecraft is nestled in a strategically positioned orbit 1.5 million kilometres (937,000 miles) from Earth, where it has been watching the skies since it was launched by the ESA in 2013.The probe is equipped with two telescopes as well as a billion-pixel camera, which captures images sharp enough to gauge the diameter of a single strand of human hair 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) away.