On 19 December, a Russian Soyuz-ST-B with a Fregat-MT stage launched the European Space Agency (ESA) unmanned space observatory Gaia from the Centre Spatial Guyanais Kourou (CSG Kourou) spaceport in French Guiana. Gaia shall carry out high-precision measurement of coördinates and stellar movement in our galaxy, tracking over a billion astronomical objects, to create a new fundamental star catalogue and a three-dimensional map of our stellar system. Gaia will also investigate the hypothesis that the Milky Way was the result of the confluence of many smaller galaxies. The onboard apparatus installed has unprecedented camera sensor resolution; it can detect a lock of hair 700 kilometres (435 miles) away. The telescope, which consists of 106 CCDs, creates an image of about 1 billion pixels. The observatory will orbit in one of the five L2 Lagrange points (points of gravitational equilibrium) between the Sun and the Earth, some 1.5 million kilometres (932,000 miles) from Earth. ESA expects the mission to last five years.
19 December 2013