A Russian rocket is due to blast the Gaia satellite into orbit, to map the stars and create the largest, most precise three-dimensional map of the Milky Way Galaxy so far.
KOUROU, FRENCH GUIANA (DECEMBER 18, 2013) (EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY) - At the European Space Agency's launch site in French Guiana, final preparations for the launch of a new space probe were made on Wednesday (December 18).
According to ESA, Gaia will orbit around the Sun, at a distance of 1.5 million km beyond Earth's orbit, scanning the sky.
Over the next five years, Gaia will map the stars with unprecedented precision, making the largest, most precise three-dimensional map of the Milky Way Galaxy by surveying more than a billion stars and determining their precise positions in space and their motions through it, ESA says.
Gaia's main goal is to produce a catalogue that will become the reference for astronomers in their various astronomical researches.
"For every professional astronomer, there is no need to explain how fundamental Gaia is. Everyone knows that when you get the distances to stars, it's the basis of all the rest of the astronomy. And everyone is looking forward to getting this data in [their] hands," said ESA Gaia Project ScientistTimo Prusti.
Scientists hope the information obtained will help them to better understand the structure, contents and evolution of our galaxy - how it came into being and why it is the way it is.