The European Space Agency has successfully launched their 32-foot satellite dubbed Gaia. The satellite was launched atop a Russian-built Soyuz rocket from the European spaceport located in French Guiana at 4am EST on December 19th.
The European Space Agency’s Gaia is on its way to L2 or the second Lagrangian point located approximately 1 million miles from the planet Earth. Even at this vast distance gravity from our Sun, Earth and Moon are able to hold the new satellite steady within its orbit. Gaia hopes to reach its final destination in approximately 20 days where it will begin scanning our Milky Way of over 1 billion stars. This large amount of stars still only amounts to only 1 percent of the estimated number of stars in our galaxy.
Gaia will take an average of 40 million scans per day with its billion-pixel camera enabling the satellite to observe each star approximately 70 times. The massive amount of scans taken by the probe will allow scientists to create 3D maps of the universe. The 3D mapping of stars is a field in science known as astrometry. The satellite is capable of creating the 3D maps by comparing the individual scans and noting the changes to positioning of celestial objects over time. This is a phenomenon known as parallax.
Scientists and astronomers will be able to study each star for chemical composition, temperature, and brightness while also enabling them to decipher their distance from us. A star’s brightness is determined by its distance and its width. By measuring brightness of the star, scientists can determine how much fuel it must be burning, which is also the star’s mass. With knowing a star’s mass, scientists can determine the strength of the gravitational pull on its surface. The star’s color is also measured, as this will tell scientists what the star’s chemical makeup is and also its temperature.
The team of experts are hoping to use Gaia to observe dying stars that collapse and explode into supernovae and spot any comets and asteroids within our own solar system. They will also be hoping to spot any planets that are orbiting their own suns. The design of Gaia has allowed it to be specifically programmed to excel at detecting giant planets that are orbiting smaller M dwarf stars. Through the new probe scientists hope to discover a possible 2,500 new alien worlds.
Europe’s Gaia project team scientist, Timo Prusti, said that they are hoping to get a view of our own galactic neighborhood and the Milky Way’s history. They’ll be observing tens of thousands of other planetary and celestial objects while exploring the fundamental properties of the Milky Way and solar system. This will give The European Space Agency a wider perspective of our place in universe.
The European Space Agency’s 32-foot satellite receives its name from the acronym “Global Astrometric Interferometer for Astrophysics.” The newly launched satellite Gaia once had a different mission from which its name was fashioned, but after the mission changed the name seemed to remain. Gaia is also the name of “Earth, mother of the universe,” in Greek mythology.
The European Space Agency’s 32-foot Gaia is expected to be in operation for five and a half years and expected to gather enough data to fill 200,000 standard DVDs or 1 petabyte of storage within its lifetime. The new satellite will help scientists learn more about our universe and launch everyone’s knowledge into the future.
By Brent Matsalla