NAM 2014: Gaia update

Despite a few teething problems the Gaia satellite is holding up well

Credit: ESA/C. Carreau
Gaia will survey more than a billion stars to make the largest 3D map of our Galaxy ever created.

Gaia, ESA’s multi-million pound survey satellite, is suffering from an abundance of stray light according to some of the UK’s leading space scientists.

Speaking at this year’s National Astronomy Meeting in Portsmouth the Mullard Space Science Laboratory’s Prof Mark Cropper and Dr George Seabroke, and the University of Edinburgh’s Dr Nigel Hambly confirmed earlier reports from ESA during a summary of Gaia’s first six months in orbit.

Gaia will, it is hoped, map a billion stars in our Galaxy and, says Prof. Cropper, revolutionise astronomy.

But not everything is as it should be with the space scope subjected to damage from a number of unexpected sources.

The main issue is the abundance of stray light entering the satellite, disrupting the background and in some cases reducing the scopes sensitivity so much that very faint stars can hardly be detected at all.

Dr Hambly outlined the problem, “Stray light, mainly from our Sun, is dominating the background and causing Gaia to loose some of its sensitivity,” he said.

“This has affected its view of the fainter stars.”

Despite this however, all three astronomers were confident that the problem would be fixed and efforts are already in place to create new models to deal with the issue.

Another problem facing Gaia is the number of micro meteors and dust particles attaching themselves to its optics. The hope is that by heating these elements some of this stray material will dissipate.

But it wasn’t all bad news, “We’re 10 per cent into the mission and there appears to be very little damage from radiation,” said Dr Hambly.

This is very good news indeed considering Gaia was launched during solar maximum.

All hosts agreed that Gaia would perform to the best of its ability and any teething problems would soon be ironed out, “Gaia will deliver a fantastic survey of our Galaxy,” said Dr Hambly.

“Yes there are issues, but there always are.”


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