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: Fermi finds a 'transformer' pulsar

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

Fermi finds a 'transformer' pulsar

3 hours ago

(Phys.org) —In late June 2013, an exceptional binary containing a rapidly spinning neutron star underwent a dramatic change in behavior never before observed. The pulsar's radio beacon vanished, while at ...

Transiting exoplanet with longest known year

Jul 21, 2014

Astronomers have discovered a transiting exoplanet with the longest known year. Kepler-421b circles its star once every 704 days. In comparison, Mars orbits our Sun once every 780 days. Most of the 1,800-plus ...

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