1. A Gaia view of the constellations across time.


ESA supervisor: Jos de Bruijne
Collaborator(s): Héctor Cánovas


Ever since humanity has been observing the night sky, the stars have been a limitless inspiration. As a result, today’s set of well-known constellations are the end product of a millennia-long journey involving storytelling and mythology and represent a unique mix of our global cultural heritage. Nonetheless, as a result of the motions of stars on the sky, exquisitely measured by ESA’s billion star surveyor, Gaia, the constellations are not static configurations but (slowly) evolve over time. This traineeships aims to explore this evolution, which is not visually susceptible over the lifetime of humans and hence not easy to grasp, using Gaia data. The trainee will develop, implement, test, document, and run Python software (a Jupyter Notebook) to visualise, in a scientifically accurate way, the stellar content of arbitrary constellations at arbitrary moments in time, up to (dozens or hundreds of) millennia in the past or future. As an example, it will answer the question which object on the sky will be the first to cross a constellation boundary (and when), it will visualise the Orion constellation as observed by the Mesopotamians, and it will provide a powerful tool to demonstrate the dynamic nature of the night sky. As such, the project , which may ultimately evolve into an interactive tool or web plugin, will have a high outreach value and will constitute an important showcase for ESA and its ground-breaking science missions.

Project duration: 6 months.

Desirable expertise or programming language:

This project is deemed most suitable for a student in astronomy with an interest in data visualisation. Affinity with Python (and the ADQL query language) is an asset but the traineeship offers ample room for improving these skills.


To apply for this project please fill in an online application form through the following link.