According to new data from a space telescope, there are ten times more asteroids than astronomers thought.
The results come from a huge data release earlier this month from the European Space Agency’s Gaia Space Telescope, which was launched in 2013 and has been gradually producing an increasingly detailed 3D map of our Milky Way ever since.
The so-called “DR3” data set includes more than 150,000 objects in the solar system, most of them asteroids – but also some moons.
“Based on Gaia DR3, Finnish researchers will change the way we think about asteroids in our solar system,” said Karri Muinonen, Academy Professor at the University of Helsinki, Finland, who was involved in the new data release.
The new data is believed to help astronomers tremendously in calculating accurate orbits for asteroids. That’s because Gaia data adds the physical properties of asteroids. Instead of just seeing them as a point of light, it is astrometry – precise measurements of positions and movements – adds data on size, shape, rotation and light scattering properties of the surface.
Something the Gaia DR3 data release also revealed is the color of about 60,000 asteroids, something previously only known for a handful of asteroids. That will help astronomers determine what they are made of, which tells a story about where it came from – and effectively the evolution of the entire solar system.
The release of Gaia DR3 data on June 13, 2022 was a big moment for astronomy that has not received the media coverage it deserves. About 50 scientific articles have been published from groundbreaking new data from Gaia on stellar chemistry, temperatures, colors, masses, magnitudes, ages and radial velocities (“wobbles”).
In addition to discovering many more asteroids than previously thought, DR3 contains the largest ever catalog of binary stars for the Milky Way, as well as millions of galaxies and quasars beyond our Milky Way.
Gaia was launched on December 19, 2013 on a Soyuz-Fregat rocket from the European Spaceport in French Guinea and observed from the same Lagrange L2 point where the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is located. Approximately one million miles/1.6 million kilometers from Earth, the spacecraft is at this precise point in space in gravitational equilibrium in the Earth-Moon-Sun system.
Gaia rotates one every six hours, observing the stars in wide circles. It studies the cosmos using two optical telescopes and three scientific instruments that make it possible to measure objects’ positions, how fast they move and what they look like.
So far it has collected new and/or more detailed data on almost two billion objects in our galaxy and the surrounding cosmos. Observation is expected to continue through 2025.
I wish you clear skies and big eyes.