For its Next Trick, Gaia Could Help Detect Background Gravitational Waves in the Universe

Artist impression of ESA's Gaia satellite observing the Milky Way. The background image of the sky is compiled from data from more than 1.8 billion stars. It shows the total brightness and colour of stars observed by Gaia
Artist impression of ESA's Gaia satellite observing the Milky Way (Credit : ESA/ATG medialab; Milky Way: ESA/Gaia/DPAC)

Ripples in a pond can be captivating on a nice sunny day as can ripples in the very fabric of space, although the latter are a little harder to observe.  Using the highly tuned Gaia probe, a team of astronomers propose that it might just be possible to detect gravitational waves through the disturbance they impart on the movement of asteroids in our Solar System!

Continue reading “For its Next Trick, Gaia Could Help Detect Background Gravitational Waves in the Universe”

Gaia is so Accurate it Can Predict Microlensing Events

ESA/Gaia/DPAC; CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO. Acknowledgement: A. Moitinho.

The ESA’s Gaia Observatory continues its astrometry mission, which consists of measuring the positions, distances, and motions of stars (and the positions of orbiting exoplanets) with unprecedented precision. Launched in 2013 and with a five-year nominal mission (2014-2019), the mission is expected to remain in operation until 2025. Once complete, the mission data will be used to create the most detailed 3D space catalog ever, totaling more than 1 billion astronomical objects – including stars, planets, comets, asteroids, and quasars.

Another benefit of this data, according to a team of researchers led by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), is the ability to predict future microlensing events. Similar to gravitational lensing, this phenomenon occurs when light from background sources is deflected and amplified by foreground objects. Using information from Gaia‘s third data release (DR3), the team predicted 4500 microlensing events, 1664 of which are unlike any we have seen. These events will allow astronomers to conduct lucrative research into distant star systems, exoplanets, and other celestial objects.

Continue reading “Gaia is so Accurate it Can Predict Microlensing Events”

A Huge New Gaia Data Release: More Stars, Gravitational Lenses and Asteroids

The ESA's Gaia observatory expanded its targets to include the tightly-packed center of Omega Centauri, an ancient globular cluster. Image Credit: ESA/Gaia/DPAC, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO. Acknowedgements: Michele Trabucchi, Nami Mowlavi and Thomas Lebzelter

The ESA’s Gaia mission is releasing a new tranche of astronomical data. The mission has released three regular, massive hauls of data since it launched in 2013, named Gaia DR1, DR2, and DR3. The ESA is calling this one a ‘focused product release,’ and while it’s smaller than the previous three releases, it’s still impactful.

Continue reading “A Huge New Gaia Data Release: More Stars, Gravitational Lenses and Asteroids”

Gaia is Now Finding Planets. Could it Find Another Earth?

Artist's impression of the ESA's Gaia Observatory. Credit: ESA

The ESA launched Gaia in 2013 with one overarching goal: to map more than one billion stars in the Milky Way. Its vast collection of data is frequently used in published research. Gaia is an ambitious mission, though it seldom makes headlines on its own.

But that could change.

Continue reading “Gaia is Now Finding Planets. Could it Find Another Earth?”

Astronomers Find a Planet Using Gaia Data

Artist view of a Jupiter-like exoplanet. Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/S. Wiessinger

The ESA’s Gaia mission is our most accurate star-measuring spacecraft. It’s busy mapping the positions and radial velocities of one billion stars in the Milky Way. The mission’s goal is to create a representative map of the galaxy’s stellar population with unprecedented accuracy. The mission has released 3 sets of data since its inception, leading to many discoveries.

Now a team of astronomers has found an exoplanet with help from Gaia, an unintended result of the ambitious mission.

Continue reading “Astronomers Find a Planet Using Gaia Data”

Not Just Stars. Gaia Mapped a Diverse and Shifting Universe of Variable Objects

We’ve reported on Gaia’s incredible data-collection abilities in the past. Recently, it released DR3, its latest data set, with over 1.8 billion objects in it. That’s a lot of data to sift through, and one of the most effective ways to do so is through machine learning. A group of researchers did just that by using a supervised learning algorithm to classify a particular type of object found in the data set. The result is one of the world’s most comprehensive catalogs of the type of astronomical object known as variables.

Continue reading “Not Just Stars. Gaia Mapped a Diverse and Shifting Universe of Variable Objects”

How Do Stars Get Kicked Out of Globular Clusters?

Hubble image of Messier 54, a globular cluster located in the Sagittarius Dwarf Galaxy. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA

Globular clusters are densely-packed collections of stars bound together gravitationally in roughly-shaped spheres. They contain hundreds of thousands of stars. Some might contain millions of stars.

Sometimes globular clusters (GCs) kick stars out of their gravitational group. How does that work?

Continue reading “How Do Stars Get Kicked Out of Globular Clusters?”

Astronomers Find a Sun-like Star Orbiting a Nearby Black Hole

Gaia BH1 is a Sun-like star co-orbiting with a black hole estimated at 10 times the Sun's mass. Credit: ESO/L. Calcada

In 1916, Karl Schwarzchild theorized the existence of black holes as a resolution to Einstein’s field equations for his Theory of General Relativity. By the mid-20th century, astronomers began detecting black holes for the first time using indirect methods, which consisted of observing their effects on surrounding objects and space. Since the 1980s, scientists have studied supermassive black holes (SMBHs), which reside at the center of most massive galaxies in the Universe. And by April 2019, the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) collaboration released the first image ever taken of an SMBH.

These observations are an opportunity to test the laws of physics under the most extreme conditions and offer insights into the forces that shaped the Universe. According to a recent study, an international research team relied on data from the ESA’s Gaia Observatory to observe a Sun-like star with strange orbital characteristics. Due to the nature of its orbit, the team concluded that it must be part of a black hole binary system. This makes it the nearest black hole to our Solar System and implies the existence of a sizable population of dormant black holes in our galaxy.

Continue reading “Astronomers Find a Sun-like Star Orbiting a Nearby Black Hole”

Gaia's Massive Third Data Release is out!

It’s here! The third and largest data release (DR3) from the ESA’s Gaia Observatory has officially been made public. As promised, the DR3 contains new and improved details for almost two billion stars in our galaxy, including the chemical compositions, temperatures, colors, masses, ages, and the velocities at which stars move. The release coincided with a virtual press event hosted by the Gaia Data Processing and Analysis Consortium (DPAC) on June 13th, which featured ESA officials and guest speakers who addressed the significance of the new data.

Continue reading “Gaia's Massive Third Data Release is out!”

ESA is About to Release its Third Giant Data Release From Gaia

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Gaia Observatory is a mission dedicated to astrometry, a branch of astronomy where the velocity and proper motion of celestial objects are measured to learn more about the formation and evolution of the cosmos. For the past eight and a half years, this space-based has been studying over two billion objects in the Universe. This includes stars in the Milky Way but also planets, comets, asteroids, and distant galaxies. This information obtained by this mission will be used to create the most-detailed 3D catalog of the Milky Way ever.

Since the mission began in 2013, two major catalogs have been released, known as Gaia Data Release 1 and 2 (DR1 and DR2), accompanied by a smaller data set – Early Data Release 3 (EDR3). On June 13th, Gaia’s third full catalog (DR3) will be released, containing new and improved details for the two billion celestial objects it has been observing. The release will coincide with a virtual press event hosted by the Gaia Data Processing and Analysis Consortium (DPAC), where featured speakers will share the significance of this latest release and how it revolutionizes our understanding of the galaxy.

Continue reading “ESA is About to Release its Third Giant Data Release From Gaia”