June 27, 2013
ESA’s 3D Star-Mapping Satellite Gaia Moving To Launch Facility
[WATCH VIDEO: Gaia Scanning The Sky]
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Gaia will be embarking on a five-year mission to map the stars and create a highly accurate 3D map of our Milky Way galaxy. ESA said the spacecraft has completed final preparations in Europe and is ready to depart to its final pit stop on Earth before launch.
The billion-star surveyor will be making measurements to help scientists assess the vital physical properties of each star, including its temperature, luminosity and composition. Astronomers will be able to use data from Gaia to determine the origin and evolution of our galaxy.
ESA said Gaia will also be able to uncover tens of thousands of previously unseen objects, such as asteroids, planets and nearby stars.
"Gaia will be ESA's discovery machine," says Alvaro Gimenez, 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 space industry and the scientific community across Europe. It's extremely rewarding to see the next generation of our high-precision observatories built and ready to answer fundamental questions about the cosmos."
The spacecraft will be launched later in 2013 on an Arianespace Soyuz rocket from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. The spacecraft will be orbiting around the Sun over 900,000 miles beyond Earth's orbit.
Gaia will spin slowly, sweeping its two telescopes equipped with the largest digital camera ever flown in space across the sky. It will measure a billion stars, which is only one percent of the stars that spread across the Milky Way. As the spacecraft moves around the Sun, it will be measuring the position of each star, allowing it to determine precise distances.
"Gaia will observe each of its billion stars 70 times on average over five years. That works out as some 40 million observations per day!" says Giuseppe Sarri, ESA's Gaia Project Manager.
Timo Prusti, ESA's Gaia Project Scientist, said the effort of processing all of the data will be carried out by the European scientific community working with ESA.
"The resulting huge stellar census will provide the information needed to tackle an enormous range of important problems related to the origin, structure and evolutionary history of our home Galaxy," said Prusti.