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

The European Space Agency launched the Gaia mission in 2013. The mission’s general purpose was to find the historical past of the Milky Way by mapping out the positions and velocities of 1 billion stars. The result’s form of like a film that exhibits the previous and the way forward for our galaxy.
The mission has launched two separate, huge information units for researchers to work by means of, with a 3rd information launch anticipated quickly. All that information has spawned a stream of research into our house galaxy.
Recently, the ESA drew consideration to 5 new insights into the Milky Way galaxy. Allof these discoveries instantly stemmed from the Gaia spacecraft.

Gaia’s job was to create the largest, most exact, catalog of stars in the Milky Way. It’s gathered information on one billion objects, principally stars but in addition some quasars, comets, and different objects. Gaia monitored every of its goal objects 70 separate instances, which accounts for the information’s precision. Its mission was initially deliberate for 5 years, however it’s been prolonged as a result of it has sufficient gasoline to function till about November 2024.
In a brand new press launch, the ESA outlined 5 vital outcomes of its Gaia mission.
Cannibalistic Spiral
Astronomers have thought for a very long time that the Milky Way has grown by consuming different smaller galaxies that get caught up in its gravitational pull. But Gaia’s information gave astronomers an unprecedented take a look at how this has occurred in the previous, and the way it’s nonetheless taking place now.
A crew of researchers working with Gaia information discovered a household of 30,000 stars shifting by means of the Milky Way. These stars are throughout us, interspersed with different stars, and so they’re all shifting the similar pace and course. But their movement is separate from the remainder of the Milky Way. They’re shifting in “elongated trajectories in the opposite direction to the majority of the Galaxy’s other hundred billion stars, including the Sun,” in line with a press launch.
They additionally stood out from different stars on the Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram. The crew behind that analysis concluded that this was a separate inhabitants of stars. This group was the results of a galactic merger a while in the previous. “The collection of stars we found with Gaia has all the properties of what you would expect from the debris of a galactic merger,” mentioned Amina Helmi, lead creator of the paper revealed in Nature.
This graphic exhibits the distribution of the Gaia-Enceladus stars throughout the Milky Way. The stars of Gaia-Enceladus are represented with completely different colors relying on their parallax – a measure of their distance – with purple hues indicating the most close by stars and yellow hues the most distant ones. White circles point out globular clusters that have been noticed to comply with related trajectories as the stars from Gaia-Enceladus, indicating that they have been initially a part of that system; cyan star symbols point out variable stars which can be additionally related as Gaia-Enceladus particles. Image Credit: ESA/Gaia/DPAC; A. Helmi et al 2018Gaia information not solely allowed researchers to search out this merger remnant, it allowed them to piece collectively what occurred. About 10 billion years in the past, the Milky Way collided with a galaxy about the dimension of one in every of the Magellanic Clouds. The misplaced galaxy, referred to as Gaia-Enceladus, was consumed by the Milky Way. The Milky Way was a lot smaller then, solely about 4 instances bigger than Gaia-Enceladus, so the collision will need to have created monumental upheaval.
We now know that there’ve been different collisions, and we additionally know that the Milky Way is in the means of consuming the Magellanic Clouds, beginning with their halo of gasoline.
A Galactic Collision Formed the Sun?
Collisions and mergers play an enormous position in the Milky Way, and presumably in our very existence.
One of the Milky Way’s neighbours is the Sagittarius Dwarf Galaxy (SDG). It’s been orbiting the rather more huge Milky Way for billions of years. While the Milky Way has a number of hundred billion stars, its little neighbour has only some tens of thousands and thousands of them. So the Milky Way is one thing like 10,000 instances extra huge.
But regardless that the SGD is tiny in comparison with the Milky Way, it’s had an enormous impact on it, particularly on our little nook.
“The galaxy was relatively quiet. Suddenly, Sagittarius fell in and disrupted the equilibrium…”Tomás Ruiz-Lara, Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias | IACEach time the SGD orbits the Milky Way, it slams into it. Of course, there’s no precise slamming. There’s an excessive amount of area between all the stars for any to precise bodily encounters. The slam is extra of a gravitational slam; an interplay.
Astronomers suppose that the SGD has struck the Milky Way a minimum of thrice already: 5 or 6 billion years in the past, two billion years in the past, and one billion years in the past. Each time it does so, the Milky Way steals a few of its stars, and the SDG turns into much less huge after every encounter. But the encounter additionally triggers star formation in the Milky Way.
The SGD has collides with the Milky Way a minimum of thrice, triggering accelerated star formation. One of these encounters could have led to the start of the Sun. Image Credit: ESAA paper revealed in 2020, and based mostly on Gaia information, confirmed that these encounters led to episodes of elevated star formation in the Milky Way. That paper referred to as the SDG the “main dynamical architect of the Milky Way disk.” Each time the SDG handed by means of the Milky Way, it created ripples and compressions in the gasoline, which result in accelerated star formation.
“After an initial violent epoch of star formation, partly triggered by an earlier merger, the Milky Way had reached a balanced state in which stars were forming steadily,” says Tomás Ruiz-Lara, the lead creator of the 2020 examine. “The galaxy was relatively quiet. Suddenly, Sagittarius fell in and disrupted the equilibrium, causing all the previously still gas and dust inside the larger galaxy to slosh around like ripples in water.”
One of these encounters came about about 4.7 billion years in the past, the similar time the Sun and the Solar System fashioned. While scientists cease in need of saying that the Sun was positively fashioned through collision with the SDG, the concept is there. It’s potential that our very existence stems from one in every of these encounters. Future research will probably affirm or rule it out.
Living Arms, Living Disc
Prior to Gaia, astronomers knew so much about the Milky Way. The hassle is, it’s tough to look at from inside, and so a few of what we find out about the Milky Way is predicated on observing different galaxies prefer it.
For instance, after we take a look at different galaxies, the spiral arms can seem bluer than different components of the galaxy. That blue signifies stars burning at larger temperatures. Hot stars are huge, and large stars are younger. So researchers concluded that the spiral arms are areas of intense star formation. But astronomers weren’t sure if the Milky Way had two arms, or 4.
Gaia allowed astronomers to look at particular person stars in the arms instantly.
“Before Gaia, we didn’t know whether there were two or four spiral arms in the Milky Way,” says Sergey Khoperskov, an astrophysicist at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany. “Now we have clear evidence that there are four of them. With Gaia, we can measure the distance to the stars and see where they are more densely packed together, which is an indication of a spiral arm.”
The anatomy of the Milky Way. Image Credit: ESAAnother query round the spiral arms considerations their longevity. Some researchers say that the arms are literally manifestations of a travelling density wave, and that they’re brief-lived phenomena—in astronomical phrases. The arms can disappear after which reform later. “Many astronomers believe that spiral arms are short-lived structures caused by some sort of gravitational instability and that they disappear within a couple of rotations and then re-emerge with some different pattern,” mentioned Sergey Khoperskov, an astrophysicist at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics.
Jos de Bruijne is a deputy mission scientist with the Gaia mission. He says that the arms don’t comprise the similar stars over their billions of years historical past. Instead, he says, the spiral arms are form of like a site visitors jam.
“Stars are moving out at the front but the traffic jam stays because stars are piling up at the back,” he says. “We still don’t know exactly why these traffic jams form and I am convinced that Gaia will shed light on this.”
Gaia additionally confirmed us that the complete galactic disk is a busy, energetic place. There are a wide range of forces performing on the components of the Milky Way, and so they create all types of motion. Its satellite tv for pc galaxies are continuously interacting with it, creating motion, rigidity, and shaping the galaxy.
Some astronomers even suppose that collisions with the SDG gave the Milky Way its spiral form.
The Milky Way is Like a Magnet, Stealing Stars from Other Galaxies
A bully and a thief. That’s what the Milky Way is. But the niceties and guidelines of human behaviour are misplaced amongst the vastness of the Universe.
The Milky Way shouldn’t be a pleasant neighbour. It’s continuously taking stars from different star clusters and smaller galaxies. Gaia has proven us this in nice element, and has discovered streams of stars torn kind different galaxies, stretching by means of area. Some of those streams stretch for 1000’s of sunshine years. Gaia observations of those streams can inform astronomers so much about the Milky Way’s gravitational energy, and its mass.
Gais has additionally discovered stars travelling by means of the Milky Way at very excessive speeds.
Gaia has discovered stars which can be sprinting at excessive speeds by means of the Milky Way. Some of them may need sufficient velocity to ultimately escape the galaxy. Image Credit: ESASome of those quick-shifting stars have sufficient velocity to flee the Milky Way. If they do, they gained’t be reunited with their former properties. Instead, they’ll probably spend an eternity travelling by means of intergalactic area. They’re a little bit of a puzzle for astronomers.
“Of the seven million Gaia stars with full 3D velocity measurements, we found twenty that could be travelling fast enough to eventually escape from the Milky Way,” explains Elena Maria Rossi, from Leiden University, the Netherlands, one in every of the authors of a current examine. “But rather than flying away from the galactic centre, most of the high-velocity stars we spotted seem to be racing towards it.”
There’s one factor at the middle of the the Milky Way that’s so huge it could possibly be drawing these stars in direction of it: the supermassive black gap Sagittarius A-Star (Sgr A*). Conversely, a supermassive black gap in one other galaxy may’ve flung these stars outwards.
“Stars can be accelerated to high velocities when they interact with a supermassive black hole,” Elena explains. “The presence of these stars might be a sign of such black holes in nearby galaxies.”
Another risk is that these stars have been in binary pairs. If their associate exploded as a supernova, that would’ve propelled them outward at excessive velocities.
Or, astronomers admit, these sprinting stars may have a extra prosaic clarification. They could possibly be from the Milky Way’s personal halo. Interactions between the Milky Way and its satellites may’ve may’ve plucked these stars from extra secure gravitational relationships and despatched them rushing by means of area.
Better information on these stars would possibly constrain their age and composition, offering vital clues to their origins. “A star from the Milky Way halo is likely to be fairly old and mostly made of hydrogen, whereas stars from other galaxies could contain lots of heavier elements,” says the examine’s co-creator Tommaso Marchetti. “Looking at the colours of stars tells us more about what they are made of.”
Our Sun is a Solar Surfer
In our Solar System’s neighbourhood there are clouds of interstellar gasoline. A 2019 examine confirmed that they kind an undulating wave 9000 gentle years lengthy. Its undulations take it as much as 500 gentle years above and under the Milky Way’s disk. The wave is about 400 gentle years vast, and astronomers have named it the Local Arm. They say it’s a small spiral arm of the Milky Way.
Astronomers prefer to preserve a eager eye on gasoline clouds, as a result of that’s the place new stars kind. Prior to the 2019 examine, astronomers thought that gasoline clouds in the Sun’s neighbourhood have been concentrated in a characteristic referred to as the Gould Belt. The Gould Belt is a hoop-formed construction of stars, mud, and gasoline about 3000 gentle years lengthy that rises above and falls under the galactic airplane.
But Gaia confirmed that the Gould Belt shouldn’t be the dominant gasoline construction. It confirmed scientists that the huge, newly-found wave construction is dominant.
“Instead, what we have observed is the largest coherent gas structure we know of in the galaxy, organised not in a ring but in a massive, undulating, narrow and straight filament,” says João Alves, a professor of Stellar Astrophysics at the University of Vienna, a 2018-2019 Radcliffe fellow, and one in every of the three scientists who found the construction. The construction is now named the Radcliffe Wave, after the Radcliffe Institute.
Our Sun is barely 500 gentle years from the Radcliffe Wave at its closest level. It nearly seems like its browsing on the wave. In truth, it was solely 13 million years in the past—about the time that apes have been getting occurring Earth—that the Sun final crossed the wave, and it’s prone to surf throughout it once more in the future.

The discovery of this wave demonstrates Gaia’s energy. The wave has at all times been there, however till acquired busy mapping stars, there was no technique to see it. “The wave has been proper in entrance of our eyes all the time, however we couldn’t see it till now, João provides.
“We don’t know what causes this shape but it could be like a ripple in a pond as if something extraordinarily massive landed in our galaxy,” mentioned Alves in a press launch. “What we do know is that our Sun interacts with this structure. It passed by a festival of supernovae as it crossed Orion 13 million years ago, and in another 13 million years it will cross the structure again, sort of like we are ‘surfing the wave’.”
Researchers don’t know what triggered this wave construction. The surprising undulating construction shouldn’t be revealing its secrets and techniques, but. It’s potential that, like a number of options of the Milky Way, interactions with one other small galaxy created it. Some researchers counsel that darkish matter is likely to be concerned. Some say the Radcliffe Wave spawned the Sun. It’ll take extra examine to provide you with a proof.
Whatever its trigger, the discovery of the Radcliffe Wave was a shock to some astronomers.
“We were completely shocked when we first realised how long and straight the Radcliffe Wave is when looking down on it from above in 3D, but also how sinusoidal it is when viewed from Earth,” mentioned Alyssa Goodman, Professor of Applied Astronomy and co-director of the Science Program at the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study. “The Wave’s existence is forcing us to rethink our understanding of the Milky Way’s 3D structure.”
Forcing us to rethink issues. That’s science’s position all through historical past. And it’s one thing that missions like Gaia repeatedly do.
The third Gaia information launch is coming quickly. An early portion shall be launched by the finish of this 12 months, with the full third information launch in the first half of 2021.
What will all of that information power us to rethink?
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