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A Better Space Telescope



blog-0866841001396821613.jpgIn December of 2013 the European Space Agency launched Gaia, the most accurate telescope to ever be put into space. Its 1 gigapixel camera (that's 1 billion pixels or 1000 megapixels) is said to be able to measure a human thumbnail from the moon or detect the width a human hair from a distance of 1000 Km, which is some pretty incredible imaging science right there. Whats more, telescopes work better where its dark, so the ESA is putting it in orbit around the sun, around the L2 lagrange point which is out past the moon- which sounds funky but let me explain. L2 is 1500000 Km from the Earth in the direction away from the sun, and from there Gaia will orbit the sun with the same period as the Earth, but free of much of the Earth's light and gravity. Rather than staying still at the L2 point however, ESA is using advanced flight dynamics to put Gaia into a 3 dimensional pendulum-like orbit about L2. [below are visuals of the L2 lagrange point and Gaia's motion around it] The period of Gaia's motion around L2 is going to be about a year an a half. From its orbit around L2, Gaia will operate for at least 5 years creating a very accurate map of over a billion stars, a million quasars and search for exoplanets. The images produced by NASA's hubble telescope are stunning, but with much superior imaging technology and being a million kilometers farther from earth than the Hubble, I can't wait to see what Gaia sends back.


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