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What’s GAIA and What’s it Telling us About Our Milky Way?

Written by Uthara Menon, a grade 4 student.

Gaia is the name of a space observatory (a spacecraft) that belongs to the European Space Agency (ESA)…

By I Kid You Not , in Space , at February 25, 2022 Tags: , , ,

Written by Uthara Menon, a grade 4 student.

What’s the Milky Way?

The Milky Way is the name that we have given to our galaxy – which includes our Solar System. It’s called Milky Way because that is the way it looks when seen from Earth – like a hazy band of light.

Stars, Sky, Night, Starry Sky, Starry Night, Cosmos
The Milky Way as seen from Earth

Now about The European Space Agency’s mission called GAIA

Gaia is the name of a space observatory (a spacecraft) that belongs to the European Space Agency (ESA). It was launched in 2013 to make observations and create a precise three-dimensional map of the Milky Way.
The idea is to know our Milky Way better.

Lots of exciting facts are being found as scientists study the data collected by GAIA – our eyes in deep space

The Gaia spacecraft was developed and launched by The European Space Agency in 2013. It aims to record the orbits of stars and document other celestial objects. The state-of-the-art payload it carries allows GAIA to create the largest and most detailed map of the Milky Way.

It is beaming back an enormous amount of data with which scientists are reconstructing the formation, evolution, and composition of our galaxy as it grows in mass and size. 

What has GAIA found?

The data sent by GAIA has shown that there have been many cosmic clashes between the Milky Way and other galaxies. Khyati Malhan – an astronomer and an astrophysicist – and his team at the Max- Planck Institute in Germany have recently identified at least 6 such collisions.

Why do these collisions occur?

These collisions occur when a smaller galaxy gets pulled into the Milky Way’s gravitation.  Pontus is the latest galaxy to merge with the Milky Way.

More about Pontus

Astronomers say that a small galaxy merged with the Milky Way around 8.5 billion years ago. This galaxy has been named Pontus after the first child of the Greek goddess of the Earth, Gaia.  When Pontus fell into our galaxy, strong gravitational forces pulled it apart. As the galaxy was torn, it created a stellar stream in the Milky Way. 

Recreating the distant past of the Milky Way

Thanks to GAIA spacecraft, we now know much more about our galaxy. Identifying and studying Pontus and other galaxies that have been absorbed into the Milky Way helps create the family tree of our galaxy.   

 “Piece by piece, astronomers are fitting together the merger history of the Galaxy, and Gaia data is proving invaluable”, the European Space Agency said in a statement. Astronomers and scientists are being kept busy and excited by GAIA as it flies deeper into the Milky Way.  

Headline Image: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e9/Gaia_spacecraft_360_Gaia_Sky.jpg
Image Attribution: Langurmonkey, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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