The Gaia Space Telescope of the European Space Agency (ESA) with its 1 billion pixel camera was launched in 2013 with the Milky Way mapping mission. In 2016, after more than a year of data collection, ESA released a star chart showing the position and brightness of millions near stars.
The ESA has just released its second "Galactic Count" after 22 months of observation, which includes detailed analysis of stellar objects up to 8000 light-years away and includes 1
"The sheer number of stars alone with their positions and movements would make Gaia's new catalog astonishing," said the Dutch astronomer Anthony Brown. "But there is more: this unique scientific catalog contains many other data types, with information about the properties of the stars and other celestial objects that make this publication truly extraordinary."
For stars within a few thousand light-years, Gaia has provided their speed in three dimensions, as well as the movements of stars within a few globular clusters. These data provide insight into the genesis and evolution of our galaxy and will drive the search for explanations of elusive dark matter that scientists still do not really understand.
This latest version also contains detailed depictions of the Milky Way in virtual reality. You can display it on a smartphone or laptop, but best with VR Cardboard. For a truly immersive experience, there is also the GaiaVR app that supports the HTC Vive headset.
Gaia Sky is a free real-time astronomy software package that runs on Windows, Mac and Linux. It contains the data from Gaia's second publication, including visualizations of star clusters, distant galaxies and quasars, as well as a simulation of our solar system. The Gaia Sky VR Companion version supports multiple VR headsets via Valve OpenVR.
"Gaia is astronomy at its best," said Fred Jansen of ESA. "The scientists will be busy with this data for many years and we are ready to be surprised by the avalanche of discoveries that will reveal the secrets of our galaxy."