Astronomers Plan to Create the Most Detailed 3-D Chart Ever of the Nearest Billion Stars

The Milky Way Shines on ParanalScientists hope to unlock secrets behind the formation and evolution of our home galaxy by creating the most detailed 3-D star chart ever assembled. Gaia is Europe’s new Milky Way Galaxy mapping-mission using the latest telescope technology to see the universe unlike ever before. Each star is plotted with information gathered about its position, distance, movement and changes in brightness using 70 samples over a five year window. The two-ton telescope was launched off the Russian Soyuz rocket via the European Space Agency’s spaceport in French Guiana.

So you think your fancy mega-pixel camera is pretty powerful, right? The Gaia is equipped with a single digital camera that has a billion-pixel chip-set and the world’s largest and most sensitive light detection unit ever launched into space!

The telescope has 100 mini-detectors working in unison to measure star positions down to 10 micro arc-seconds of accuracy. “This is an astonishing step up in accuracy. To give an example, Gaia will measure the difference in position of one side of a human hair compared to the other side of it—in Paris, as viewed from London,” said mission scientist and professor Mark Cropper, from the Mullard Space Science Laboratory.

To put these gains in perspective, the telescope will be able to pick up objects 400,00 times fainter than what the naked eye could actually see looking up at the sky at night according to National Geographic. Astronomers are hoping to now discover thousands of new interesting objects in the galaxy like supernovae, blazars, dwarf stars, exoplanets, and even asteroids while using the data to help further unlock some of the oldest mysteries behind the origins of our Milky Way Galaxy.

Featured Image: ESA/ATG medialab; background: ESO/S. Brunier

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