Created during September 2022

Milky Way Census

This visualization shows a sample of ±85,000 stars taken from Gaia’s Data Release 3, created for the “Graphic Science” page of Scientific American’s December 2022 issue. The art director requested to show the variety in stellar properties present within the data, which resulted in this “parallel coordinates” style of data visualization. Our own Sun and Sirius (the brightest star in the night sky) are shown for context.

The visualization of 'Milky Way Census' on the Graphic Science page
A close-up of the visual

The Gaia datasets are incredibly big, with over a billion “objects” within the latest “Data Release 3”. One of the most challenging aspects of this project was therefore to get a good sample from that (and to understand which characteristics of the stars to visualize). One that shows a variety of the stars out there, while also being confident in the objects actually being stars.

After reading several papers and many websites I decided to use the “Golden Sample” that the Gaia team makes available within the database.

The visual itself came together quite quickly after that, fine-tuning it with smooth lines and selecting a proper color palette.

A close-up of the visual