TAU space vehicle Gaia 370.
(photo credit: TAU)
Astronomers from Israel and all over the world will on Thursday send to space a
vehicle named Gaia, which is expected to bring about a “revolution in the
understanding of our galaxy,” according to participating Tel Aviv University
Prof. Shay Zucker – of the geophysics and atmospheric and
planetary science department – who, with colleagues, will analyze data collected
from the unmanned space ship. Zucker said that the “data that it will send back
to Earth will be as accurate as determining the location from Earth of a grain
of sand on the Moon with a millimeter’s accuracy.”
Gaia will carry a
telescope and other equipment that will map with unprecedented accuracy more
than a billion stars and receive a 3-D map of the Milky Way, the galaxy in which
our solar system is located. The space vehicle was built by the European Space
Agency at a cost of more than two billion euros.
A huge amount of data is
expected to expose new insight on the creation and development of the Milky Way
and even its history in the next several billion years, Zucker said on
In addition, it is expected to discover hundreds of thousands of
planets that revolve around other planets, survey asteroids in our solar system
and supply hints of dark energy – the mysterious factor that apparently
accelerates the spread of the Universe.
It has taken more than a decade
to build the space vehicle, and it is due to be launched on Thursday aboard a
Russian Soyuz missile from the launching pad of the European Space Agency in
French Guiana. The moment it reaches its permanent orbit, several months will be
needed to operate its delicate equipment. Afterwards, Gaia’s mission will
continue for five years, during which it will document the location, clarity and
temperature of every heavenly body that passes its visual field, including a
The TAU scientist said that there are more than a billion
pixels in Gaia’s “camera,” making it exceedingly accurate up to 10 microseconds.
After its work is completed, an exact 3-D map will help us answer questions
related to the origin of the Milky Way, he added.
Like Earth, Gaia will
revolve around the Sun once a year. Like 3-D vision using two eyes, the
measurement of each star from a somewhat different location over the year will
make it possible to measure depth – that is, the distance from Earth.
super-accuracy will provide new ways to examine the veracity of Albert
Einstein’s General Relativity Equations, using more accurate measurements of the
movement of celestial bodies in the solar system that are close to us. These
measurements, together with the movement of stars in the galaxy, are also
expected to provide information on the nature of dark matter, that in a certain
way functions in the opposite direction of the force of gravity, Zucker
The exact mapping will also make it possible to identify the
movement of stars in the galaxy and bring discoveries of planets circling other
stars by discovering the movement that a planet makes on its mother
Another way is by viewing changes of the clarity of the star that
takes place when the planet hides part of its mother star.
focuses on discovering those differences of clarity resulting form such
Together with his research student (and now post-doctoral
student at the Weizmann Institute of Science) Dr. Yifat Dzigan, they suggested
ways to use observations from Earth to improve the changes to discovery these