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Europe launches billion-dollar Milky Way telescope

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Posted December 19, 2013
Gaia
Gaia mapping the stars of the milky way. Credit: ESA/ATG medialab; background: ESO/S. Brunier
The European Space Agency on Thursday 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-euro ($1.02-billion) device, the most sophisticated space telescope ever built by Europe, aims at building an “astronomical census” of a billion stars, or around one percent 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.

Read more at: Phys.org

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