Gaia satellite begins 3D mapping the Milky Way

30 Jul 2014

The Gaia satellite

The Gaia satellite now hurtling through space is about to embark on the most ambitious 3D mapping project ever by attempting to map the Milky Way galaxy.

Only launched in December last year by the European Space Agency, Gaia is a one-of-a-kind digital camera and the largest digital imagine tool ever launched into space. Having reached a distance of 1.5m km from Earth, it can begin its task of mapping out our galaxy, reported CNet.

Aside from taking images with its powerful 1-gigapixel camera, the technology on board the spacecraft will also be able to measure brightness, temperature and the chemical composition of the stars and planets that make up the Milky Way.

Despite the fact Gaia will be mapping stars by the millions, it is likely to capture only 1pc of the estimated 1bn stars that make up the Milky Way at a rate of 2m stars per hour, generating 50GB of data.

The fact Gaia is operational and able to take these images is an achievement, given the less than ‘stellar’ start to its mission, when ice had been found on its optics as well as stray light that could have turned the satellite into an expensive piece of space junk.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic