“The motion of two million stars is traced 5 million years into the future using data from the Tycho-Gaia Astrometric Solution, one of the products of the first Gaia data release. This provides a preview of the stellar motions that will be revealed in Gaia’s future data releases, which will enable scientists to investigate the formation history of our Galaxy.
Stars move through our Galaxy, the Milky Way, although the changes in their positions on the sky are too small and slow to be appreciated with the naked eye over human timescales. These changes were first discovered in the eighteenth century by Edmond Halley, who compared stellar catalogues from his time to a catalogue compiled by the astronomer Hipparchus some two thousand years before. Nowadays, stellar motions can be detected with a few years’ worth of high-precision astrometric observations, and ESA’s Gaia satellite is currently leading the effort to pin them down at unprecedented accuracy.
A star’s velocity through space is described by the proper motion, which can be measured by monitoring the movement of a star across the sky, and the radial velocity, which quantifies the star’s motion towards or away from us. The latter can be ...