According to the European Space Agency (ESA), unraveling the evolution of the Milky Way is a complicated task; similar to mapping the human genome, ESA’s galaxy mapper, Gaia, takes up trillions of measurements of 2 billion of the brightest stars in the sky. It is interesting to look at what it requires to unpick those measurements to disclose the galaxy’s secrets.
On June 13, the Gaia Data Processing and Analysis Consortium (DPAC), a partnership of 450 European astronomers and engineers supporting the galaxy-mapping endeavor, published what DPAC chair Anthony Brown interpreted as “the richest set of astronomical data ever published.”
To develop the 10-terabyte catalog of shortened data, DPAC computers had to go through 940 billion observations of 2 billion of the brightest light sources in the sky, Brown said at an ESA news conference on June 13. He is an astronomer at Leiden University in the Netherlands. It required five years for the data to go through the complicated computational pipeline of validation, calibration, and analysis processes, including six supercomputing centers in six European countries.
“Every day, Gaia sends us between 20 and 100 gigabytes of data,” Gracia announced. “That might not seem like that much if you compare it to the bandwidth you have at home, but we are talking about a satellite that is 1.5 million kilometers [930,000 miles] away from Earth.”