Speed Reads

The final frontier

This is the largest map of our galaxy ever produced

The Milky Way galaxy contains about 300 billion stars — way more than any one human could possibly hope to see. But the European Space Agency wants to help intrepid stargazers try.

The ESA's Gaia mission has been collecting data on the stars in the Milky Way since 2013, NPR reported. On Wednesday, the group used that information to release the most detailed star map of the galaxy we've ever had.

Over the past five years, the Gaia spacecraft has captured images of the sky roughly every six months, allowing scientists to understand information about some 1.7 billion stars by comparing images when they're at different positions in the sky, Popular Mechanics reported. Now that the database is publicly available, scientists from all across the world can use that information in their research.

Gaia's data barely scratches the surface of what's out there, but "the exact brightness, distances, motions, and colors" of all those stars is valuable information for astronomers, NPR explained. "We're really talking about an immense change to our knowledge about the Milky Way," said David Hogg, an astrophysicist at New York University and the Flatiron Institute.

You can visually explore our galaxy below, or look through the data Gaia has collected on the ESA's website. Shivani Ishwar