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EUROPE BIDS GAIA A SAFE JOURNEY

mxim 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 nearby stars, and exploding stars – supernovas – in other galaxies.

More than 400 scientists from all over Europe have been working the last years in the preparation of the mission. Among them is a group of more than 25 physicists and engineers from the Department of Astronomy and Meteorology from the University of Barcelona. This team has worked on various aspects of the mission, from the simulations necessary to prepare the data reduction process, to the preparation of algorithms that process or defining parts of the instruments, such as filters to do photometry.

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.

To explain all this information to the public, investigators from the Department of Astronomy and Meteorology from the University of Barcelona has produced the exhibition "Mil milions d'ulls per a mil milions d'estrelles" . It was presented at the Parc astronomic del Montsec the ast July 1st. The exhibition also can be seen in digital format: http://www.am.ub.edu/expogaia ESA new

 
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