Billion-pixel video to map Milky Way

Share this on social media:

A team of astronomers at the University of Cambridge is taking the next big step in a European-wide programme that will lead to the creation of the first three-dimensional map of more than a billion stars.

A powerful data centre, which was turned on yesterday at the Institute for Astronomy (IoA), will process the vast amount of imaging data sent back to Earth by a satellite that is due to be launched into space in August 2013. The Gaia satellite, whose heart is the largest digital camera ever built, will orbit the Sun at a distance of 1.5km from Earth and will feed the data centre with a billion-pixel video of a billion stars, galaxies, quasars and solar system asteroids for five years after launch.

The Gaia satellite, which has been hailed as the premier European astrophysics space mission of the decade, will deliver an extraordinarily precise census of the Milky Way in three dimensions.

‘As Gaia slowly spins, it will create a billion-pixel video of the Milky Way, watching everything move, and deducing what is there, and where it is,’ explained Professor Gerry Gilmore, from the IoA and the UK principal investigator for UK involvement in the mission. ‘On its five-year mission, Gaia will produce a vast amount of information – almost inconceivable in its scope.’

Gaia is one of the most important current space projects for the UK, which has won about €80 million of contracts from ESA to build parts of the spacecraft.

Remarkably, its two optical telescopes are capable of measuring the positions of celestial objects to an accuracy of up to 10 microarcseconds, comparable to the diameter of a human hair at a distance of 1,000km. To determine the properties of stars, Gaia will also split their emitted light into a spectrum before communicating the data back to Earth. After launch, a 10m diameter ‘skirt’ will unfold around the satellite to shade the telescopes and generate its own energy from solar panels.

Gaia is expected to discover a multitude of new objects both in our solar system – including brown dwarfs and white dwarfs, supernovae and extra-solar planets – as well probe the distribution of dark matter, map over 500,000 quasars in the Universe, and measure the local structure of space-time.

Recent News

27 May 2021

The vision devices use Sony's IMX500 sensor, which is able to run AI algorithms on the chip to provide real-time information about free parking spaces and other transport data

12 February 2021

Video recorded at 2,800 frames per second has been used to test high-speed trains travelling through the newly opened Ceneri Base Tunnel in Switzerland

29 July 2020

The Perseverance rover contains 19 cameras, including seven scientific instruments. It will analyse the climate and geology of Mars, looking for signs of past life, as well as monitoring the Martian atmosphere

02 July 2020

Norwegian seafood firm, Lerøy, has installed hyperspectral cameras on processing lines to sort fish. The system is able to measure the amount of blood in white fish, which gives a grade of quality