x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Europe launches billion-dollar Milky Way telescope

European Space Agency launches advanced telescope designed to detect a billion stars and provide the most detailed map yet of the Milky Way.

An artist's impression shows the European Space Agency’s Gaia mapping the stars of the Milky Way. S Brunier via Reuters
An artist's impression shows the European Space Agency’s Gaia mapping the stars of the Milky Way. S Brunier via Reuters

PARIS // The European Space Agency yesterday launched an advanced telescope designed to detect a billion stars and provide the most detailed map yet of the Milky Way and our place in it.

The Gaia telescope was successfully hoisted by a Soyuz-STB-Fregat rocket from ESA’s space base in Kourou, French Guiana, the agency reported in a webcast.

The star-hunter separated from the last of the rocket’s four stages 42 minutes after launch, and mission controllers said everything was fine.

The €740-million (Dh3,7 billion) device, the most sophisticated space telescope ever built by Europe, aims at building an “astronomical census” of a billion stars, or around one per cent of all the stars in the Milky Way.

By repeating the observations as many as 70 times throughout its mission, Gaia can help astronomers calculate the distance, speed, direction and motion of these stars and build a 3-D map of our section of the galaxy.

The stellar haul will be 50 times greater than the bounty provided by Hipparcos, a telescope of the early 1990s whose work provided a gold-standard reference guide still widely used by professional astronomers today.

“Gaia is the culmination of nine years of intensive work which will enable exceptional advances in our understanding of the Universe, its history and laws,” said Jean-Yves Le Gall, head of France National Centre of Space Studies, which is taking a lead role in the mission.

“We are at the dawn of revolutionising our understanding of the history of the Milky Way,” said Stephane Israel, boss of Arianespace, which launched the satellite.

A Soviet-era workhorse of space with an excellent record of reliability, Soyuz is deployed at Kourou under a deal to widen Arianespace’s options for the world’s satellite launch market.

Agence France-Presse