Space probe Gaia launched to map a billion stars
Washington: Europe’s billion-star surveyor has been launched into space where it will create a highly accurate 3D map of our galaxy.
By repeatedly observing a billion stars, with its billion-pixel video camera, the Gaia mission will allow astronomers to determine the origin and evolution of our galaxy whilst also testing gravity, mapping our inner solar system, and uncovering tens of thousands of previously unseen objects, including asteroids in our solar system, planets around nearby stars, and supernovae in other galaxies.
“Gaia will be a revolution in our knowledge of the local universe. For the first time we will have a fair sample of what is out there, where it is, how it is moving, how unseen (dark) matter is distributed, where and when stars formed and where and when the chemical elements of which we are made were created,” Professor Gerry Gilmore, from the University of Cambridge and UK Principal Investigator for Gaia, said.
Gaia will make a huge step towards understanding how the Milky Way came to be formed, and evolved into what we see today. For the first time, we will be able to see the Milky Way in 3-D. In fact in 6-D-where stars are, and how they are moving,” Gilmore said.
UK participation in the mission is funded by the UK Space Agency and scientists and engineers from around the UK have played key roles in the design and build of Gaia.
The UK Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) funded the early development of the project, including the set-up of the data applications center. STFC’s current support involves the UK exploitation of the scientific data to be yielded from the mission.
The Cambridge Gaia Data Processing Center will be the front line in processing Gaia’s images, which will also be key to the discovery of many thousands of transient stars and supernovae: these will be made immediately available to schools and the public for their participation in the research.