Have you ever seen 40,000 shooting stars flash in the sky at the same time?
If you wish, the European Space Agency (ESA) offers you two options: Either you will stare at the night sky for about solar system drives steadily through the Milky Way (requires patience) – or check out a new 60 second time-lapse simulation of the same, courtesy of ESA’s Gaia space observatory.
In the new simulation, 40,000 stars – all within 325 light years from the sun of the earth – zoom through space, leaving long trails of light behind. Each point of light represents a real object in the Milky Way, and each shining trail shows the projected movement of that object through the galaxy over the next 400,000 years. Brighter, faster stripes are closer to our solar system, while fainter, slower stripes live much further away.
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According to ESA researchers, the simulation shows an unsurprising pattern: at the end of the animation, most of the stars appear grouped on the right side of the screen, while the left side remains relatively blank. It’s not because the stars are being pulled by a newborn black hole or an alien tow beam; it’s just that our sun is also in constant motion, making passing stars appear more clustered in the opposite direction.
“If you imagine you are moving through a crowd of people (standing still), the people in front of you will seem to separate as you approach them, while behind you people will seem to get closer to each other as you move away from them, ”ESA researchers wrote in a blog post. “This effect also occurs due to the movement of the sun relative to the stars.”
The data that made this mosaic of cosmic fireflies possible comes from the third official data release (EDR3) of the Gaia satellite, which was made public on December 3. The new data dump includes detailed information on more than 1.8 billion celestial objects, including the precise positions, speeds and orbits of more than 330,000 stars within 325 light years of Earth. according to a press release of the ESA. (The 40,000 stars represented in the simulation were chosen randomly.)
The Gaia satellite was launched in 2013 with the express mission of measuring the positions, distances and movements of the stars. The second data publication, released in 2018, helped astronomers compile the most detailed map of the universe ever. The new, third release will add about 100 million new objects to that treasury, ESA researchers said.
Originally published on Live Science.