Gaia mapping the stars of the Milky Way

Jun 28, 2013
Gaia mapping the stars of the Milky Way.

ESA's billion-star surveyor, Gaia, has completed final preparations in Europe and is ready to depart for its launch site in French Guiana, set to embark on a five-year mission to map the stars with unprecedented precision.

Gaia's main goal is to create a highly accurate 3D map of our Milky Way Galaxy by repeatedly observing a billion stars to determine their precise positions in space and their motions through it.

Other measurements will assess the vital physical properties of each star, including its temperature, luminosity and composition.

The resulting census will allow astronomers to determine the origin and the evolution of our Galaxy.

Gaia will also uncover tens of thousands of previously unseen objects, including asteroids in our Solar System, planets around , and – supernovas – in other galaxies.

"Gaia will be ESA's discovery machine," says Alvaro Giménez, ESA's Director of Science and Robotic Exploration.

"It will tell us what our home Galaxy is made of and how it was put together in greater detail than ever before, putting Europe at the forefront of precision astronomy.

"Gaia builds on the technical and scientific heritage of ESA's star-mapping Hipparcos mission, reflecting the continued expertise of the and the scientific community across Europe.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
Gaia scanning the sky.

"It's extremely rewarding to see the next generation of our high-precision observatories built and ready to answer fundamental questions about the cosmos."

Gaia will be launched later in 2013 on an Arianespace Soyuz rocket from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, and will map the stars from an orbit around the Sun, near a location some 1.5 million km beyond Earth's orbit known as the L2 Lagrangian point.

During its five-year mission, the spacecraft will spin slowly, sweeping its two telescopes equipped with the largest digital camera ever flown in space – with nearly a billion pixels – across the entire sky.

Gaia will measure a billion stars, roughly 1% of all the stars spread across the Milky Way.

As Gaia moves around the Sun, it will repeatedly measure the position of each star, allowing it to determine the distance through a perspective effect known as parallax.

Combined with the other measurements, these data will equip astronomers with the information they need to reconstruct the history of the Milky Way.

The mission will also discover new asteroids in our own Solar System and planets orbiting around other stars.

Gaia should even be able probe the distribution of dark matter, the invisible substance that is detected only through its gravitational influence on celestial objects.

It will test Einstein's General Theory of Relativity by watching how light is deflected by massive objects like the Sun and its planets, as well as other stars.

Explore further: Unfolding Gaia

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Unfolding Gaia

Jun 25, 2013

(Phys.org) —Gaia, ESA's billion-star surveyor, will be launched into space towards the end of this year. In the meantime, ESA Space Science has launched a new 'minisite' focused on the Gaia mission.

Gaia's instruments installed and ready for testing

Sep 18, 2012

(Phys.org)—The payload module of ESA's billion-star surveyor Gaia is integrated and ready for the next stage of rigorous testing it must undergo before launch next year. Once in space, Gaia will make preci ...

Gaia checks out of antenna testing

Jul 03, 2012

(Phys.org) -- Entombed by the distinctive foam pyramids typical of test chambers, the main antenna of the Gaia billion-star surveyor has been put through its paces ahead of launch next year.

Gaia spreads its wings

Dec 08, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- ESA’s Gaia star-mapper has passed a critical test ahead of its launch in 2013: the spacecraft’s sunshield has been deployed for the first time.

Recommended for you

ESO image: A study in scarlet

9 hours ago

This new image from ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile reveals a cloud of hydrogen called Gum 41. In the middle of this little-known nebula, brilliant hot young stars are giving off energetic radiation that ...

Astronomers: 'Tilt-a-worlds' could harbor life

Apr 15, 2014

A fluctuating tilt in a planet's orbit does not preclude the possibility of life, according to new research by astronomers at the University of Washington, Utah's Weber State University and NASA. In fact, ...

Pushy neighbors force stellar twins to diverge

Apr 15, 2014

(Phys.org) —Much like an environment influences people, so too do cosmic communities affect even giant dazzling stars: Peering deep into the Milky Way galaxy's center from a high-flying observatory, Cornell ...

Image: Multiple protostars within IRAS 20324+4057

Apr 14, 2014

(Phys.org) —A bright blue tadpole appears to swim through the inky blackness of space. Known as IRAS 20324+4057 but dubbed "the Tadpole", this clump of gas and dust has given birth to a bright protostar, ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Anorion
not rated yet Aug 10, 2013
good news, cant wait to see the results

More news stories

Meteorites yield clues to Martian early atmosphere

(Phys.org) —Geologists who analyzed 40 meteorites that fell to Earth from Mars unlocked secrets of the Martian atmosphere hidden in the chemical signatures of these ancient rocks. Their study, published ...

Let's put a sailboat on Titan

The large moons orbiting the gas giants in our solar system have been getting increasing attention in recent years. Titan, Saturn's largest moon, is the only natural satellite known to house a thick atmosphere. ...

ESO image: A study in scarlet

This new image from ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile reveals a cloud of hydrogen called Gum 41. In the middle of this little-known nebula, brilliant hot young stars are giving off energetic radiation that ...

How kids' brain structures grow as memory develops

Our ability to store memories improves during childhood, associated with structural changes in the hippocampus and its connections with prefrontal and parietal cortices. New research from UC Davis is exploring ...

Gate for bacterial toxins found

Prof. Dr. Dr. Klaus Aktories and Dr. Panagiotis Papatheodorou from the Institute of Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology of the University of Freiburg have discovered the receptor responsible ...