The second release of Gaia galactic mapping data is planned for April 2018. It will contain measurements of their parallax, which quantifies a star’s distance from us, and of their motion across the sky. Astronomers are eagerly awaiting this unprecedented data set to delve into the present and past mysteries of our Galaxy and its neighbors.
It will include distances to over a billion stars and velocities for several million. This will provide a 10,000-fold increase in the number of stars calculated with unprecedented positional accuracy.
The first batch of Gaia data, released in 2016 and based on 14 months of science operations, contained the position and brightness of more than one billion stars. Most of these stars are located in the Milky Way, but a good fraction are extragalactic, with around ten million belonging to the LMC.
By analyzing the motions of individual stars in external galaxies like the LMC, Andromeda, or Triangulum, it will be possible to learn more about the overall rotation of stars within these galaxies, as well as the orbit of the galaxies themselves in the swarm they are part of, known as the Local Group.
In the case of the LMC, a team of astronomers have already attempted to do so by using a subset of data from the first Gaia release, the Tycho–Gaia Astrometric Solution (TGAS), for which parallaxes and proper motions had also been provided by combining the new data with those from ESA’s first astrometry mission, Hipparcos. In the TGAS data set, consisting of two million stars, they identified 29 stars in the LMC with good measurements of proper motions and used them to estimate the rotation of the galaxy, providing a taster of the studies that will become possible with future releases of Gaia data.