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Gaia mission’s Milky Way map pinpoints locations of billion-plus stars

With more data, satellite will make 3-D atlas of galaxy

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1:19pm, September 14, 2016
Milky Way panorama

A BILLION POINTS OF LIGHT  This panoramic view of the Milky Way galaxy from the Gaia satellite shows the density of stars on the sky. The center of the galaxy lies beyond the line of dark clouds in the middle; the two bright patches at lower right are the Magellanic Clouds, two satellite galaxies of the Milky Way. The stripes are an artifact of how Gaia scans the sky.

A new map of the galaxy, the most precise to date, reveals positions on the sky for over 1 billion stars both within and beyond the Milky Way.

This new galactic atlas, courtesy of the European Space Agency’s Gaia spacecraft, also provides distances to roughly 2 million of those stars, laying the groundwork for astronomers who want to piece together the formation, evolution and structure of the Milky Way.

“This is a major advance in mapping the heavens,” Anthony Brown, an astrophysicist at Leiden University in the Netherlands, said September 14 at a news briefing. “Out of the 1 billion stars, we estimate that over 400 million are new discoveries.”

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