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New 3-D Map Captures Entire Milky Way Galaxy With More Than A Billion Stars

SAN FRANCISCO -- Since ancient times, man has attempted to chart the heavens. Now to the delight of scientists and armchair astronomers alike, more than a billion stars have been captured on a single three-dimensional image of our Milky Way galaxy.

Gaia, the space observatory of the European Space Agency, was launched a little over a year ago to accomplish the Herculean task of charting the most comprehensive 3-D map of the galaxy, ever. This week, the Gaia satellite delivered, sending its first preliminary "all-sky view" of the galaxy pinpointing the precise position of 1142 million stars.

WATCH: Gaia Space Observatory

"The beautiful map we are publishing today shows the density of stars measured by Gaia across the entire sky, and confirms that it collected superb data during its first year of operations," says Timo Prusti, Gaia project scientist at ESA.

The map reveals the density of the stars -- with brighter regions indicating denser concentrations, and darker regions corresponding to areas with fewer stars. The Large and Small Megellanic Clouds are the two bright objects on the lower right. Our largest galactic neighbor, Andromeda is visible in the lower left.

CLICK on this annotated version of the map to see more details. (ESA/Gaia/DPAC)

While this first map is truly amazing, Gaia's mission is far from accomplished. Alvaro Giménez, ESA's Director of Science, considers this image just a teaser.

"Today's release gives us a first impression of the extraordinary data that await us and that will revolutionize our understanding of how stars are distributed and move across our Galaxy." writer, producer Jan Mabry is also executive producer and host of The Bronze Report. She lives in Northern California. Follow her on Twitter @janmabr.


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