Sequencing a Star
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The Gaia space observatory recently collected a trove of scientific data about the Milky Way that provides new insights into the galaxy’s evolution and the DNA of thousands of stars, the Telegraph reported.
Currently located more than 900,000 miles from Earth, the powerful telescope was launched in 2013 to piece together the largest and most accurate multi-dimensional map of the Milky Way.
The European Space Agency – which developed Gaia – released new data that showed the positions of nearly two billion stars and the phenomenon of “starquakes.”
Starquakes are tsunami-like vibrations on a star’s surface that can change its spherical shape. Gaia found thousands of these starquakes, including some on stars that actually shouldn’t experience them.
But one of the biggest findings was the complex chemical makeup of many stars, which can tell the story of the galaxy’s evolutionary history.
The space telescope detected that some stars in the Milky Way are primordial ones that formed after the Big Bang and mainly had light elements, such as hydrogen and helium.
Some of these primeval celestial bodies eventually died, releasing metals and other heavy elements that enriched galaxies – and subsequently created new stars with newer elements.
Primordial stars are located in the far reaches of our galaxy, while the younger stars – such as our sun – are closer to the center.
Scientists said such findings are “analogous to sequencing the DNA of the human genome.”
“This new data release creates a detailed bank of information, essentially working as a DNA map that allows us to understand the stellar population of our galaxy, and track its past, present and future,” said Nicholas Walton, a member of the ESA Gaia Science Team.