The European Space Agency (ESA) launched into space an ambitious project that is to provide the first realistic 3D mapping of the Milky Way galaxy.
The 740m euro ($1,03bn) star surveyor Gaia was launched on Thursday at 09:12 GMT on a Russian Soyuz ST-B rocket, to start its five-year mission.
According to ESA, Gaia will orbit around the Sun at a distance of 1.5 million km beyond Earth’s orbit, scanning the sky to record with unprecedented accuracy the details of outer space.
Revolving slowly on its axis, Gaia will survey more than a billion stars, forming the largest, most precise three-dimensional map of the Milky Way Galaxy 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 Scientist Timo 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.