The great advances in any science tend to come in sudden leaps. April 25th of 2018 marks the beginning of just such a leap for much of astronomy. In the early hours of the morning, the Gaia mission’s second data release dropped. Our understanding of our own galaxy will never be the same again.
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The Star at the End of Time
The Gaia satellite was launched in late 2013, entirely built and operated by the European Space Agency. It’s primary goal is to map the stars of the Milky Way with a scale and precision orders of magnitude greater than ever before. Gaia’s predecessor, Hipparcos, catalogued 120 thousand stars, Gaia blows it out of the water with positions, colors and brightnesses of nearly 1.7 billion stars. Gaia can see orders of magnitude fainter and further away than previous missions. But its greatest superpower is its precise astrometry – Gaia can pin down a star’s position to the equivalent of a human hair’s width at 1000 km. That’s one-to-two thousand times smaller than the resolution of the Hubble Space Telescope.
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