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Galactic archaeologists are mapping the galaxy's past

1.7 billion stars in the Milky Way and neighboring galaxies, taken by the European Space Agency's Gaia spacecraft from July 2014 to May 2016. Photo: ESA/Gaia/DPAC

With the richest vein of crystal-clear images of the galaxy to date, researchers are mapping the past orbits of stars to get closer to understanding the Milky Way's history.

What's going on: The practitioners of this science call it "galactic archaeology," which has gotten a huge boost with a burst of images from Gaia, an observatory launched into orbit by the European Space Agency in 2013 (see image above.)