Gaia has Already Given Us 5 New Insights Into the Milky Way

The ESA's Gaia mission is currently on a five-year mission to map the stars of the Milky Way. Gaia has found evidence for a galactic collision that occurred between 300 million and 900 million years ago. Image credit: ESA/ATG medialab; background: ESO/S. Brunier.

The European Space Agency launched the Gaia mission in 2013. The mission’s overall goal was to discover the history of the Milky Way by mapping out the positions and velocities of one billion stars. The result is kind of like a movie that shows the past and the future of our galaxy.

The mission has released two separate, massive data sets for researchers to work through, with a third data release expected soon. All that data has spawned a stream of studies into our home galaxy.

Recently, the ESA drew attention to five new insights into the Milky Way galaxy. Allof these discoveries directly stemmed from the Gaia spacecraft.

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A Stellar Stream of Stars, Stolen from Another Galaxy

Modern professional astronomers aren’t much like astronomers of old. They don’t spend every suitable evening with their eyes glued to a telescope’s eyepiece. You might be more likely to find them in front of a super-computer, working with AI and deep learning methods.

One group of researchers employed those methods to find a whole new collection of stars in the Milky Way; a group of stars which weren’t born here.

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The Solar System Might Not Exist if There Wasn’t a Huge Galactic Collision with the Milky Way Billions of Years Ago

The Milky Way has a number of satellite galaxies; nearly 60 of them, depedending on how we define them. One of them, called the Sagittarius Dwarf Spheroidal Galaxy (Sgr d Sph), may have played a huge role when it comes to humans, our world and our little civilization. A collision between the Milky Way and the Sgr d Sph may have created the Solar System itself.

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The Disk of the Milky Way is Warped Because it Already Collided With Another Galaxy

For decades, astronomers have been trying to understand why the Milky Way galaxy is warped the way it is. In recent years, astronomers have theorized that it could be our neighbors, the Magellanic Clouds, that are responsible for this phenomenon. According to this theory, these dwarf galaxies pull on the Milky Way’s dark matter, causing oscillations that pull on our galaxy’s supply of hydrogen gas.

However, according to new data from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) star-mapping Gaia Observatory, it is possible that this warp is the result of an ongoing collision with a smaller galaxy. These findings confirm that the warp in our galaxy is not static, but subject to change over time (aka. precession), and that this process is happening faster than anyone would have thought!

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An Upcoming Impact With the Magellanic Clouds is Already Causing Star Formation in the Milky Way

For some time, astronomers have known that collisions or mergers between galaxies are an integral part of cosmic evolution. In addition to causing galaxies to grow, these mergers also trigger new rounds of star formation as fresh gas and dust are injected into the galaxy. In the future, astronomers estimate that the Milky Way Galaxy will merge with the Andromeda Galaxy, as well as the Small and Large Magellanic Clouds in the meantime.

According to new results obtained by researchers at the Flatiron Institute’s Center for Computational Astrophysics (CCA) in New York city, the results of our eventual merger with the Magellanic Clouds is already being felt. According to results presented at the 235th meeting of the American Astronomical Society this week, stars forming in the outskirts of our galaxy could be the result of these dwarf galaxies merging with our own.

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Thanks to Gaia, we Now Know Exactly How Big Europa is

Jupiter’s moon Europa continues to be a source of wonder and scientific intrigue. As one of the four Galilean Moons (so-named because of their founder, Galileo Galilee), Europa is one of Jupiter’s largest satellites and is considered one of the best bets for finding extraterrestrial life in the Solar System. And recently, it joined its cousins (Io and Callisto) in passing in front of a star.

This type of rare event (a stellar occultation) allows astronomers to conduct unique observations of a celestial body. In Europa’s case, the occultation took place in 2017 and allowed astronomers to make more precise measurements of Europa’s size, its position relative to Jupiter, and its true shape. All this was made possible by the ESA’s Gaia Observatory, which let astronomers know exactly when and where to look for the moon.

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Gaia Mission is Mapping Out the Bar at the Center of the Milky Way

Despite the many advancements made in the field of astronomy, astronomers still struggle to get an accurate assessment of the Milky Way Galaxy. Because we are embedded in its disk, it is much more difficult to assess its size, structure, and extent – unlike galaxies located millions (or billions) of light-years away. Luckily, thanks to improved instruments and tireless efforts, progress is being made all the time.

For instance, a team of astronomers recently combined the latest data obtained by the ESA’s Gaia observatory with the infrared and optical observations of other telescopes to start mapping the bar-shaped collection of stars at the center of our Milky Way. This constitutes the first time in history that astronomers have been able to make direct measurements of this barred structure.

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In the far Future our Sun will Turn Into a Solid Crystalline White Dwarf. Here’s How it’ll Happen

About fifty years ago, astronomers predicted what the ultimate fate of our Sun will be. According to the theory, the Sun will exhaust its hydrogen fuel billions of years from now and expand to become a Red Giant, followed by it shedding it’s outer layers and becoming a white dwarf. After a few more billion years of cooling, the interior will crystallize and become solid.

Until recently, astronomers had little evidence to back up this theory. But thanks to the ESA’s Gaia Observatory, astronomers are now able to observe hundreds of thousands of white dwarf stars with immense precision – gauging their distance, brightness and color. This in turn has allowed them to study what the future holds for our Sun when it is no longer the warm, yellow star that we know and love today.

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Scientists are Using Artificial Intelligence to See Inside Stars Using Sound Waves

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory has captured images of a growing dark region on the surface of the Sun. Called a coronal hole, it produces high-speed solar winds that can disrupt satellite communications. Image: Solar Dynamics Observatory / NASA

How in the world could you possibly look inside a star? You could break out the scalpels and other tools of the surgical trade, but good luck getting within a few million kilometers of the surface before your skin melts off. The stars of our universe hide their secrets very well, but astronomers can outmatch their cleverness and have found ways to peer into their hearts using, of all things, sound waves. Continue reading “Scientists are Using Artificial Intelligence to See Inside Stars Using Sound Waves”