ESA’s Gaia Satellite Captures The Universe’s Fingerprint In Rotation Of The Large Magellanic Cloud

Gaia SatelliteESA

After last week’s release of the highly anticipated star catalog that maps around 1.7 billion stars in the Milky Way, the Gaia satellite operated by the European Space Agency (ESA) has set its sights beyond the borders of our galaxy.

Gaia has pointed its telescope at the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a satellite dwarf galaxy of the Milky Way and captured a spectacular photo of its rotation.

The image, unveiled today by ESA, reveals the density and rotation of stars in our neighboring galaxy, in what looks like a cosmic fingerprint of our universe.

The fingerprint-like appearance of the galaxy’s rotation was created through the combination of total star density with data on their motion across the sky, as well as the stars’ velocity, that gives texture to the Gaia image, ESA explains in the photo release.

Several million stars in the dwarf galaxy were measured in terms of motion and velocity in order to provide this imprint of their clockwise rotation around the center of the LMC.

The footage was released as part of the second wave of data collected by the Gaia satellite over the last five years. This second slew of information, which also includes the recently-released Gaia star catalog, was gathered for the purpose of widening our understanding of the galaxies closest to the Milky Way.

The end goal is to study how our own galaxy evolved by comparing it to the behavior of other galaxies.

The rotation of the Large Magellanic Cloud.
The rotation of the Large Magellanic Cloud, as captured by ESA's Gaia satellite.Featured image credit: Gaia SatelliteESA

Sitting just 163,000 light-years from Earth, the LMC is one of the closest satellite dwarf galaxies of the Milky Way, notes The dwarf galaxy is also a hot spot for star birth. Its proximity to Earth and its fortuitous location near the Milky Way, in an area that’s clear of galactic dust and uncrowded by stars, makes it an ideal observational point in the study of new star formation.

The LMC lies less than a tenth of the distance to the Andromeda Galaxy, the nearest major galaxy to the Milky Way. This makes it close enough to study in detail, especially considering that the LMC is situated almost face to face with our planet.

The rotation of the LMC was also observed by NASA in 2014 when the Hubble Space Telescope revealed that it takes 250 million years for the satellite dwarf galaxy to complete a full rotation.