In DepthAstronomy

Data trove helps pin down the shape of the Milky Way

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Science  27 Apr 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6387, pp. 363
DOI: 10.1126/science.360.6387.363

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On 25 April, hundreds of astronomers around the world got their hands on one of the biggest data dumps in the history of astronomy: the exact positions, motions, brightnesses, and colors of 1.3 billion stars in and around the Milky Way, gathered during the first 2 years of operation by the European Space Agency's €750 million Gaia satellite, launched in 2013. The data—Gaia's second release—will fuel an explosion of studies about the structure of the Milky Way. The trove of stellar positions from Gaia will sharpen our picture of the galaxy's spiral structures, and the data on stellar motions will allow astronomers to wind the clock backward and see how the galaxy evolved over the past 13 billion years. Gaia's color and brightness information, meanwhile, will help astronomers classify stars by composition and pin down where different types are born.