Milky Way: 1.6 million year time-lapse revealed
The Milky Way has been around for more than 13 billion years and in that time it has changed a lot. Galactic impacts and mergers with our nearest cosmic neighbours mean the galaxy’s landscape is always on the move. And down on the Earth, factors such as the planet’s movement and precession mean our ancestors 40,000 years ago looked upon a very different night sky.
The same is true for the future, according to a breathtaking new timelapse published by the European Space Agency (ESA).
The timelapse shows just how different the night sky will look 400,000 years from now.
Astronomers have simulated a timelapse of how the 40,000 stars nearest to our solar system will move about in the coming millennia.
The stars are all within 325 light-years of the Sun and were mapped out by ESA’s Gaia space observatory.
You can watch Milky Way the timelapse in the embedded video above.
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Each streak of light represents a real celestial body moving across the Milky Way in increments of 80,000 years.
The trails also indicate how bright the stars appear today.
Because stars all move in their orbits of the galactic centre, their apparent position in the sky relative to other stars changes.
Astronomers refer to this movement as proper motion and it is more or less dramatic for different stars.
In the ESA timelapse, some of the stars produce shorter streaks which indicate stars moving at a sluggish pace, while faster stars leave behind longer tails.
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ESA said: “The displacement on the sky is dictated by the distance of the star and the speed at which it moves.
“Stars that are nearby and moving at high speeds will change position across the sky quickly, while stars that move at intrinsically lower speeds or are far away will change position slowly.”
You will also notice the stars appear to concentrate on the right side of the timelapse as if attracted by some unseen force.
But this is the result of the motion of our Sun in respect to the other stars.
Like all bodies in the Milky Way, the Sun is on the move and that causes the apparent shift of other stars in the opposite direction.
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ESA said: “If you imagine yourself moving through a crowd of people (who are standing still), then in front of you the people will appear to move apart as you approach them, while behind you the people will appear to stand ever closer together as you move away from them.
“This effect also happens due to the motion of the Sun with respect to the stars.
“Hence the Sun is moving toward a point on the sky in the upper left quadrant of the video, while it moves away from the lower right quadrant.”
From start to end, the simulation spans an incredible 1.6 million years of simulated history.
But the very last frame of the video focuses on the night sky just 400,000 years from now.
ESA said the decision was made to avoid too much crowding from the white star trails.
Gaia’s latest trove of data was published on December 3 this year.
The data charts the position of some 1.8 billion objects, including 330,000 stars
Astronomers believe the collected information has created the most detailed map of the Milky Way yet, which will go a long way towards understanding our place in the Universe.
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