Can you imagine a 3D Milky Way map with a catalog of 1 billion stars on it?
Never before such a big collection of Milky Way data has been collected, today that’s ESA’s Gaia space mission main goal. However, that’s not all, other results such as, the composition of our galaxy, discovering exoplanets, asteroids or determining the origin of the galaxy,… take also part of the mission objectives.
For carrying out these huge tasks, the mission counts on three stages. First, the satellite called Gaia, next, the ground stations where the data are received and finally the operation centers (ESOC in Germany to operate the satellite and ESAC in Madrid to receive all the telemetry and treat the data).
As you can imagine, Gaia is sending huge amounts of data, around 100 TeraBytes during its entire lifetime, and DPAC is the responsible group to process and analyse it. The main DPAC center is set in Madrid but it’s also split up into other different Europe centers as CNES in Toulouse or Cambridge, such big amount of data makes this collaboration necessary.
The Gaia spacecraft has two optical telescopes which allow it to cover two different regions of the sky at the same time. Thanks to its formidable camera, the most powerful one ever built with 1 billion pixels, the satellite is capable of record each star over 70 times. This will permit scientists to understand their movement, position, characteristics,…
Gaia was launched on December 2013 and its end is programmed for 2018, although the whole catalog is scheduled for 2020. In other words, in the coming years lots of our galaxy mysteries will be revealed. Gaia will represent the biggest Milky Way catalog ever with a precision never achieved before.