International workshop on astrometric ESA mission - presentations online

Posted by mjs76 at May 20, 2011 04:30 PM |
A three-day international workshop last month discussed a forthcoming ESA mission to map a thousand million stars.

'Gaia and the End States of Stellar Evolution' was organised by GREAT (Gaia Research for European Astronomy Training) which is funded by the European Science Foundation. Astronomers from Germany, Spain, the USA, Ireland, Italy and the UK converged on Leicester for three days of presentations and discussion about the project’s current status and expectations for what it might deliver – and what we will be able to learn from that data.

The various Powerpoints are now available to view on the conference website.

Gaia (Global Astrometric Interferometer for Astrophysics) is an ESA mission to map millions of stars and galaxies with unprecedented accuracy. Orbiting the Sun in the L2 Lagrange point (which will keep it perfectly aligned with the Earth and Sun at all times), the spacecraft will carry two telescopes, each with a largest mirror measuring 1.45m x 0.5m, which will feed three instruments:

  • Astro, the astrometric instrument for detecting and pinpointing celestial objects.
  • Blue and Red Photometers (BP/RP), used to determine stellar properties such as temperature, mass, age, elemental composition.
  • Radial-Velocity Spectrometer (RVS), used to determine the velocity of celestial objects along the line of sight.

GAIA is intended to build on the success of ESA’s Hipparcos mission (1989-1993). By way of comparison, Hipparcos was sensitive enough to measure the diameter of a human hair at a distance of 20km – but GAIA will be able to do that from 1,000km! On completion of its five year mission*, GAIA is expected to have accurately catalogued:

  • 1,000,000-10,000,000 galaxies
  • 5,000,000 quasars
  • 100,000 extragalactic supernovae
  • 100,000-1,000,000 new asteroids
  • 100,000,000 binaries
  • 400,000 disk white dwarfs
  • 50,000 brown dwarfs
  • 50,000 planetary systems

GAIA is due to launch from French Guiana in March 2013 aboard a 47m-tall Soyuz-fregat rocket.

*Which sadly will not involve seeking out new life or new civilisations…