The Hipparcos satellite launched in 1989 and completed its mission to measure the positions of the stars around 1993, but its data and legacy live on. The European Space Agency project has new life thanks to the Star Mapper site, an interactive online romp through the heavens as seen by Hipparcos.
According to the ESA, the Hipparcos star catalog "listed 117,955 stars, reporting their positions with unprecedented accuracy, alongside estimates of their distance from us and motions through the Galaxy." Previous catalogs made from Earth-bound observations contained data for just 8,000 stars. Star Mapper gives you access to nearly 60,000 stars out of the satellite's treasure trove of information.
Star Mapper can show the names of some of the major stars (hi there, Alpha Carinae!); connect the lines of constellations; and display stars based on brightness as seen from Earth using the apparent-magnitude filter. Setting the filter to maximum offers a mind-boggling array of stars to enjoy. Roll it back and only the brightest shine through.
For a really trippy time, set Star Mapper to show the colors of stars, turn on the 3D option and hit the stellar-motion play button to see them take off. The stars travel along trajectories extrapolated from Hipparcos measurements of their motions. It's a dazzling visual experience that will have you seeing the night sky in a new and intriguing way, as though you're participating in a celestial disco party. And here's a star-studded soundtrack to go with it.