“The new Gaia data promises to be a treasure trove for astronomers,” said Jos de Bruyne, a deputy scientist at ESA, Gaia’s deputy.
The new information not only brings the total number of mapped stars in seven years to nearly 2 billion, but includes a “detailed count of more than 300,000 stars in our space neighborhood,” meaning stars within 326 light-years of the sun. It is estimated that this 300,000 number is 92% of the stars in this area. That’s 100 times more stars than the old 1991 data.
The new data provide measurements of location, motion and brightness that are “orders of magnitude” more accurate than the old information. In fact, the data are so accurate that it reveals that the path of the sun is not a straight line, but is slightly curved.
“Gaia has been staring at the skies for the past seven years, mapping the positions and speeds of the stars,” said Caroline Harper, head of space science at the UK Space Agency. “Thanks to his telescopes, we now have the most detailed 3D atlas of billions of stars ever assembled.”
The new map helps astronomers make predictions by predicting the movements of 40,000 stars every 1.6 million years in the future, the agency said.
This week’s release is the first of two parts, with the second expected in 2022. Gaia’s “Star Census” began in 2013.