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How to Map a Billion Stars

Posted by Louise Merifield on 24-Apr-2018 15:57:45

Waiting for Gaia's second data release

Gaia is an ambitious mission of the European Space Agency which will make the largest and most precise 3-D map of our Galaxy by surveying about one billion stars. Which sounds like an awful lot of stars, but amounts to only 1 per cent of the Galaxy's stellar population. The Gaia spacecraft was launched on 19 December 2013 and the mission is planned to continue for 5 years, continually collecting data on the motion and characteristics of stars. The Gaia spacecraft is controlled from the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

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Getting the spacecraft off the ground and keeping track of it is only one part of the story. Gaia sends about 40GB of complex data back to earth every day. To turn this into useful information, a big team of scientists and software engineers has been working hard to turn that data into a map of the galaxy for astronomers. Two of SixSq's engineers have been part of the Data Processing and Analysis Consortium (DPAC) team at the University of Geneva for the last ten years, delivering big data and software engineering expertise which helps with the processing and analysis of the mission's data. 

The first data release in 2016 had a big impact on astronomy and generated fascinating results that changed the way scientists think about our cosmos. On Thursday 25 April 2018, Gaia's eagerly awaited new star catalogue will be released. It will give us a wide range of information about the mapped stars, including colour, speed, temperature and luminosity.

To find out more about the Gaia mission, take a look at ESA's webpage or this short video from ESA to find out more about the Gaia mission Waiting for Gaia. You can also follow the news on the Twitter feed @ESAGaia