The Gaia space telescope blasted off into clear skies over
Engineers and scientists on the pounds 625m mission celebrated a perfect launch from the
The spacecraft will take a week or so to reach its orbit around the sun. There, the telescope will start to turn gently and map the precise locations of all the stars and other celestial bodies that fall within its gaze. Gaia's map will cover 1% of the stars in the
"It is an emotional moment and one of the wow moments in life," said Timo Prusti, Gaia project scientist, who was at the launch site. "A perfect launch and deployment of the sunshield. We are ready to observe the stars."
Today, engineers will command Gaia to perform the first of two critical thruster firings to make sure the rocket is on the right course. The second firing, due in around 20 days, will send the spacecraft into its operational orbit around the sun. Instruments aboard the space telescope will be switched on, checked and calibrated.
By watching from different positions, Gaia will build up a picture of the exact distances of stars and how they move. The measurements will be used to "rewind time" and see how the galaxy came to look the way it does today.
Scientists say the telescope will discover tens of thousands of dying stars that explode in spectacular supernovae. By watching for subtle movements of stars, they also hope to learn of previously unknown planets that tug on their parent stars as they circle round them.
"Gaia represents a dream of astronomers throughout history, right back to the pioneering observations of the ancient Greek astronomer Hipparchus, who catalogued the relative positions of around a thousand stars with only naked-eye observations and simple geometry," said
"Over 2,000 years later, Gaia will not only produce an unrivalled stellar census, but along the way has the potential to uncover new asteroids, planets and dying stars."
The rocket launch of the Gaia space telescope in Kourou,
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