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Gaia delivers a trove of data revealing secrets of the Milky Way

Astronomers are using the info to gauge the galaxy’s mass, size up exoplanets and more

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7:00am, May 9, 2018
GAIA

IN MOTION The Gaia spacecraft can reveal new features of the universe, thanks to its ability to track the movement of stars, like the rotation of the Large Magellanic Cloud, shown in this image based on light measured by Gaia.

Astronomers are going gaga over Gaia.

The April 25 release of data from the European Space Agency’s Gaia spacecraft, which cataloged nearly 1.7 billion stars, has kicked off a scientific spree, with multiple papers published online in the last two weeks at arXiv.org.

Charting stars in the Milky Way and beyond, Gaia surveys the entire sky. The spacecraft can measure stars’ motions and distances (SN Online: 4/25/18), properties which haven’t been inventoried on such a large scale before. “It’s really opening new dimensions in how we view stars,” says astronomer Ana Bonaca of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass.

Because Gaia takes multiple images over time, “you're not only getting a static picture of the sky at one instant, you’re looking at how it changes,” says astronomer Laura Watkins

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