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ESA unveils billion pixel camera that will map the Milky Way

That’s not a camera: this is the camera

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The European Space Agency has announced the completion of the camera that’s to be used in its Gaia mission: a billion-pixel mosaic comprising 106 individual CCDs in a 0.5x1 meter array.

Assembled in May and June at Astrium’s facility in Toulouse, the camera is designed to map around a billion stars when Gaia’s five-year mission begins in 2013. The CCDs were developed by UK company e2v Technologies, with each measuring 4.7x6cm.

The stereoscopic camera will have two 51-device arrays set at 106.5 degrees to each other, with four CCDs watching over image quality and the offset of the telescopes. The telescopes are divided into four functions, with fields dedicated to star mapping, position and motion (to be captured in 3D), colour and intensity, and spectrometry.

Like its predecessor missions, the Herschel and Planck space telescopes, Gaia will be stationed at the L2 Lagrange point a million-and-a-half kilometres from Earth, where the balance between orbital movement and gravitational forces will let the spaceship "hover". This location means the scientists will get a more stable view than if the spaceship is orbiting Earth.

Gaia will be able to sample 1 percent of the stars in the Milky Way, and is also expected to pick up information about more local objects such as asteroids, right out to distant quasars and “edge-of-the-universe” galaxies.

The mission will be launched on a Soyuz-STB/Fregat rocket from French Guiana.

The European Space Agency has images and a design animation here. ®

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