The European Space Agency (ESA) has launched its 740m-euro (£620m) star-surveying satellite Gaia aboard a Russian-made Soyuz rocket into space from the Sinnamary complex in French Guiana on Thursday at 06:12 local time (09:12 GMT). Gaia is named after an ancient Greek mythic deity.
Immediately after launch, Gaia spread out its 10-meter (33-feet) circular sun shield that not only protects the sensitive instruments from the rays of the sun but also gathers solar energy to give power to spacecraft.
This satellite has one of the most high-powered digital cameras having billion pixels that will also help Gaia along with the twin telescopes to study the position, distance, movement, chemical composition and brightness of nearly 1 billion stars, to search for new planets, to get the most accurate 3D map of the Milky Way galaxy by studying the motion of stars over five years and to better understand the evolution of our galaxy.
“Gaia promises to build on the legacy of ESA’s first star-mapping mission, Hipparcos, launched in 1989, to reveal the history of the galaxy in which we live,” says Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA’s Director General.
“It is down to the expertise of Europe’s space industry and scientific community that this next-generation mission is now well and truly on its way to making ground-breaking discoveries about our Milky Way.”
Gaia will begin its study in May 2014 from Lagrange point L2, located 1.5 million km (930 million miles) away from Earth.
Liftoff for ESA’s billion-star surveyor – ESA (http://goo.gl/3RBWr9)