European space probe launches on mission to map the stars

By Kyle Johnson,

The European Gaia satellite successfully launched on Thursday from French Guiana with the goal of mapping over a billion stars.

The Gaia satellite has been in the works for the past 20 years and will journey nearly 1.5 million kilometers from the Earth to an observing station where it will begin its job of mapping the stars to give researchers a more precise location and distances of stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, BBC News reports.

Once Gaia reaches its destination, it will use two telescopes and a billion-pixel camera detector to map the stars and their motion in the night sky over the next five years.

According to Space.com, the Gaia will also report how luminous the various stars are and scientists are hoping the probe will find new exoplanets and other objects in the night sky that have not yet been mapped.

European Space Agency officials said in a statement, "Gaia will conduct the biggest cosmic census yet, charting the positions, motions and characteristics of a billion stars to create the most precise 3-D map of our Milky Way."

Gaia was originally scheduled for a 2011 launch, but that had to be delayed because of mirror-related issues and other problems that cropped up.

image: Wikimedia Commons


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