EDITORIAL: Okay, it is not a real UFO Sighting – but in fact an artist’s rendition of the GAIA mapping satellite being launched by the ESA! But, it does make you wonder how many “false sightings” have been reported by people. [CCS]
Following extensive in-orbit commissioning and several unexpected challenges, Europe’s billion-star surveyor is ready to begin its mission.
The satellite was launched on 19 December 2013, and is orbiting a virtual location in space 1.5 million kilometres from Earth.
Gaia’s goal is to create the most accurate map yet of the Milky Way. It will make extremely accurate measurements of the positions and motions of about 1% of the total population of roughly 100 billion stars in our home galaxy to help answer questions about its origin and evolution.
Professor Gerry Gilmore, from the University of Cambridge and UK Principal Investigator for Gaia, said:
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. 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.
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 centre. STFC’s current support involves the UK exploitation of the scientific data to be yielded from the mission.
The Cambridge Gaia Data Processing Centre will be the front line in processing Gaia’s images, which will play an important role in 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.
Repeatedly scanning the sky, Gaia will observe each of its billion stars an average of… [Finish Reading on UK.gov / ESA]