Artist’s impression of the Gaia spacecraft

Gaia spacecraft (artist conception)

Artist’s impression of the Gaia spacecraft. Image: ESA.int

Gaia is a space observatory of the European Space Agency (ESA) designed for astrometry: measuring the positions and distances of stars with unprecedented precision. The mission aims to construct the largest and most precise 3D space catalog ever made, totaling approximately 1 billion astronomical objects, mainly stars, but also planets, comets, asteroids and quasars among others.

The spacecraft was launched on December 19, 2013, with a planned mission duration of five years and possible extension by one to four years. Gaia will monitor each of its target objects about 70 times over a period of five years to study the precise position and motion of each target. The spacecraft has enough consumables to operate for approximately nine years, and its detectors are not degrading as fast as initially expected. The mission could, therefore, be extended. The Gaia targets represent approximately 1% of the Milky Way population with all stars brighter than magnitude 20 in a broad photometric band that covers most of the visual range. Additionally, Gaia is expected to detect thousands to tens of thousands of Jupiter-sized exoplanets beyond the Solar System, at least 500,000 quasars and tens of thousands of new asteroids and comets within the Solar System.

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