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Gaia completed its first year of scientific observations

on 02 September 2015

ESA's billion-star surveyor, Gaia, completed its first year of science observations in its main survey mode.

After launch on 19 December 2013 and a six-month long in-orbit commissioning period, the satellite started routine scientific operations on 25 July 2014.

Located at the Lagrange point L2, 1.5 million km from Earth, Gaia surveys stars and many other astronomical objects as it spins, observing circular swathes of the sky. By repeatedly measuring the positions of the stars with extraordinary accuracy, Gaia can tease out their distances and motions through the Milky Way galaxy.

At the end of that phase, on 21 August, Gaia commenced its main survey operation, employing a scanning law designed to achieve the best possible coverage of the whole sky.

Since the start of its routine phase, the satellite recorded 272 billion positional or astrometric measurements, 54.4 billion brightness or photometric data points, and 5.4 billion spectra.

The Gaia team have spent a busy year processing and analysing these data, en route towards the development of Gaia's main scientific products, consisting of enormous public catalogues of the positions, distances, motions and other properties of more than a billion stars. Because of the immense volumes of data and their complex nature, this requires a huge effort from expert scientists and software developers distributed across Europe.

"The past twelve months have been very intense, but we are getting to grips with the data, and are looking forward to the next four years of nominal operations," said Timo Prusti, Gaia project scientist at ESA.

ESA’s press release is available here

Image credit: ESA/ATG medialab; background: ESO/S. Brunier