Virtual Milky Way
ESA's Gaia is surveying stars in our Galaxy and local galactic neighbourhood in order to build the most precise 3D map of the Milky Way and answer questions about its structure, origin and evolution.
|A ghostly image of our Milky Way galaxy derived from spacecraft orientation data [Credit: ESA]|
To achieve its scientific aims, it points with ultra-high precision, and to enable the control team to monitor spacecraft performance, Gaia regularly reports to the ground information about its current attitude and the stars that have been observed.
These engineering data have been accumulated over 18 months and combined to create a 'map' of the observed star densities, from which a beautiful and ghostly virtual image of our magnificent Milky Way galaxy can be discerned, showing the attendant globular clusters and Magellanic clouds.
Where there are more stars, as in the Galactic centre, the map is brighter; where there are fewer, the map is darker. The map includes brightness data corresponding to several million stars.
More information on Gaia operations
Source: European Space Agency [November 10, 2016]