Monday's Gaia space probe revealed its latest discoveries in its mission to map the Milky Way. It surveyed nearly two million stars and discovered mysterious "starquakes," which sweep across fiery giants like huge tsunamis.
European Space Agency (ESA), which released the third data set from the mission to eagerly awaiting astronomers around world at 1000 GMT, stated that it "revolutionizes our understanding the galaxy".
Josef Aschbacher, Director General of ESA, stated at a press conference that it was a "fantastic day for astronomy" as the data "will floodgates for new science and new discoveries of our universe of our Milky Way."
Francois Mignard from the Gaia team said that some of the new insights in the map were close to home. He spoke of a catalog of over 156,000 asteroids within our Solar System, "whose orbits it has calculated with unparalleled precision."
Gaia sees more than the Milky Way. She spots 2.9 million additional galaxies and 1.9 million quasars. These are the brilliantly lit hearts of supermassive black hole galaxies.
The Gaia spacecraft can be found in an orbit approximately 937,000 miles above Earth. It has been there since its launch by the ESA back in 2013.
ESA stated that starquakes are massive vibrations that alter the shape of distant stars and were "one of our most remarkable discoveries."
Although Gaia wasn't built to detect starquakes, it still detected them on thousands of stars.
Starquakes can teach us a lot more about stars, especially their inner workings. Conny Aerts, a Gaia team member, said that Gaia has opened a treasure trove for "asteroseismology" of massive stars.
Gaia has observed more than 1.8 million stars, but this only accounts for about 1% of the Milky Way's stars. This galaxy is approximately 100,000 light years across.
Two telescopes and a billion-pixel camera are included on the probe. These images can be used to measure the diameter of one strand of human hair from 620 miles away.
New data include new information like the age, mass and chemical composition of stars. This data can be used to determine if stars originated in another galaxy before migrating to the Milky Way.
Anthony Brown, chair of the Data Processing and Analysis Consortium that sifted through the huge amount of data, stated that the extremely precise data "allows" us to look back more than 10 billion years in the past history of our Milky Way.
Mignard stated that the results of Gaia are already "far exceeding what we expected" at this stage.
He said that they show that the galaxy isn't moving as smoothly through the universe like was thought. Instead, it is "turbulent and restless."
He said, "It has had many accidents in its life and still have them" when it interacts with other galaxies. "Perhaps it won't be stationary."
Aerts stated, "Our galaxy is indeed alive, where objects are born and where they die."
"The galaxies around our galaxy are constantly interfacing with it and sometimes even falling within it."
Along with the new data, approximately 50 scientific papers were published. Many more are expected to follow in the future.
Since its 2016 release of its first dataset, Gaia's observations have been the inspiration for thousands of studies.
Astronomers were able to prove that the Milky Way was merged with another galaxy in an explosion around 10 billion years ago using the second dataset.
The team took five years to produce the most recent data. This was from 2014 to 2017.
After Gaia's 2025 mission to survey the sky, the final dataset will be made available in 2030.
Monday's announcement confirmed two exoplanets, along with 200 potential candidates. But more are possible in the future.
Brown stated that Gaia should, in principle, be capable of detecting thousands of exoplanets, particularly if it continues for 10 years.
Gaia data is now available. It includes information about 800,000 binaries, which are stars that move in tandem with one another. There are also new exoplanets and hundreds of thousands more asteroids in our solar system.
This report was contributed by The Associated Press.