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Posted: Nov 29, 2013
ESA project to map a billion stars in the Milky Way
(Nanowerk News) The Milky Way Galaxy comprises hundreds of billions stars. An ambitious ESA project will map around a billion of these. The European funded GREAT network will train young researchers across Europe to help make sense of this wealth of data.
Gaia was the Greek mother goddess of all creation. Her modern namesake is the European Space Agency's (ESA) out-of-this-world mission, which is set to revolutionise our understanding of the Milky Way.
The Gaia space satellite will launch in December 2013 and over its five year mission will compile a 3D catalogue of around a billion astronomical objects in the Milky Way and beyond. This detailed map of many of the stars in our galaxy will include their positions and motions, which encode the origins of the Milky Way.
Gaia will deliver enormous scientific returns, but due to the complex nature of the mission and the large volumes of heterogeneous data that it will generate, it does present significant challenges in the analysis and interpretation of its data, The EU-supported 'Gaia research for European astronomy training - ITN' (GREAT) project has thus been set up an initial training network (ITN) to meet these challenegs in developing new techniques and training the next generation of researchers with the advanced skills required to maximise the scientific exploitation of Gaia in the years to come.
With funding from the People sub-programme of the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), GREAT supports 17 early-stage researchers (ESRs) carrying out PhD research at their host institutes across Europe.
The ITN is focussed on the general theme of 'unravelling the Milky Way', where investigation and training is organised around four fundamental questions: the origin and history of the Milky Way, the birth place and astrophysical properties of the stellar constituents of our galaxy, linking the study of exoplanets to the origins of the Solar System, and the distance scale and the transient sky.
Since its launch in April 2011, the ITN has recruited all 17 ESRs, 41 % of whom are women. GREAT has also organised numerous training sessions, including an induction school and schools focused on specific themes.
GREAT will continue to boost the calibre of its young charges until early in 2015, after which they will be able to continue to undertake original research in this important field of space science.