Europe's Gaia probe observes starquakes, stellar DNA
europe's gaia probe observes starquakes, stellar dna

Europe’s Gaia probe observes starquakes, stellar DNA

Europe's Gaia probe observes starquakes, stellar DNA

Artist impression of the Gaia satellite observing the Milky Way. The background image of the sky is compiled from data from more than 1.8 billion stars. Photo courtesy European Space Agency

June 13 (UPI) — The European Space Agency said Monday that its Gaia probe has observed thousands of starquakes and so-called “stellar DNA” in its survey of the Milky Way.

This is the third major release of data from the mission, which launched in 2013, and includes new details cataloging such things as the chemical composition, temperature, speed and radial velocity coupled to 3D motions.

The first two data releases came in 2016 and 2018 and contained such information as the positions of stars, their locations in the sky and their motions, among other data.

“New in this data set is the largest catalog yet of binary stars, thousands of Solar System objects such as asteroids and moons of planets, and millions of galaxies and quasars outside the Milky Way,” the ESA said in a statement.

ESA Director-General Josef Aschbacher said that the release included data from 1.8 billion stars in the Milky Way. Such data is crucial for astronomers in modeling how the Milky Way formed and changed over time.

The space agency said that a “surprising” discovery from the latest release was that Gaia, though not built to do so, was able to detect starquakes.

Starquakes, tiny motions on the surface of stars that change their shape, are harder to observe than radial oscillations, which can cause stars to swell and shrink, that were previously detected by Gaia and are “more like large-scale tsunamis.”

“Starquakes teach us a lot about stars, notably their internal workings,” said Gaia collaborator Conny Aerts of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium. She added that Gaia is opening a “gold mine” for the field of asteroseismology of massive stars.

Gaia was also able to observe stars that likely originated in other galaxies based upon their chemical makeup, as well as a diversity in the makeup of stars formed in the Milky Way.

“This diversity is extremely important, because it tells us the story of our galaxy’s formation. It reveals the processes of migration within our galaxy and accretion from external galaxies,” said Alejandra Recio-Blanco of the Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur in France, who is a member of the Gaia collaboration.

“It also clearly shows that our Sun, and we, all belong to an ever-changing system, formed thanks to the assembly of stars and gas of different origins.”

The data released Monday also included a photometric survey of the Andromeda galaxy and the “highest accuracy survey of asteroids combing their compositions with their orbits.”

Gaia is able to make such discoveries because the probe is fitted with a billion-pixel camera, as well as more than 100 electronic sensors, and because of the nature of its mission.

“Unlike other missions that target specific objects, Gaia is a survey mission. This means that while surveying the entire sky with billions of stars multiple times, Gaia is bound to make discoveries that other more dedicated missions would miss,” said Timo Prusti, Project Scientist for Gaia at ESA.

“This is one of its strengths, and we can’t wait for the astronomy community to dive into our new data to find out even more about our galaxy and its surroundings than we could’ve imagined.”

With the release of the data, the ESA also published about 50 scientific papers of which nine are “specifically dedicated to demonstrating the great potential” of the new data.

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