Gaia starts mapping our Milky Way’s bar | 7/21/2019 | Deborah Byrd
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Since its second data release in 2018, the Gaia satellite of the European Space Agency (ESA) has been revolutionizing the way we see our home galaxy, the Milky Way. On July 16, 2019, astronomers mining Gaia data in combination with infrared and optical surveys performed from ground and space – looking specifically at the distribution of 150 million Milky Way stars, of the billion tracked so far by Gaia – announced the first direct measurement of the bar-shaped collection of stars at our galaxy’s center. In the video above, you can see an artist’s concept of this bar, a large and elongated feature made of stars. In the video, orange/yellow hues indicate a greater density of stars (mostly red giants). Our sun is represented by the larger orange/yellow blob in the lower part of the image (in reality, the sun is nowhere near this bright or prominent). Astronomers called this new work:

… the first geometric indication of the galactic bar.

Gaia - Course - Geometry - Measurements - Points

Because Gaia, of course, is all about geometry, about the measurements of points and lines. More specifically, in the language of astronomy, Gaia is about astrometry. The satellite is equipped to measure the positions and brightnesses of Milky Way stars and other objects, over and over, as these objects move in space around the center of our galaxy. In this way, astronomers can obtain exact distances for these objects via parallax. The ultimate goal is to construct a precision 3D map of our Milky Way. Gaia’s measurements are complicated by the fact that our galaxy is a very dusty place, and the dust obscures distant stars. In this study of the galactic bar, astronomers refined their analysis of Gaia data – giving consideration to this dust – via a computer code called StarHorse, developed by co-author Anna Queiroz and collaborators.

Friedrich Anders...
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