Gaia: 3-dimensional census of the Milky Way Galaxy
Astrometry from space has unique advantages over ground-based observations: the all-sky coverage, relatively stable, and temperature and gravity invariant, operating environment delivers precision, accuracy and sample volume several orders of magnitude greater than ground-based results. Even more importantly, absolute astrometry is possible. The European Space Agency Cornerstone mission Gaia is delivering that promise. Gaia provides 5-D phase space measurements, 3 spatial coordinates and two space motions in the plane of the sky, for a representative sample of the Milky Way’s stellar populations (over 2billion stars, being ~1% of the stars over 50% of the radius). Full 6-D phase space data is delivered from line-of-sight (radial) velocities for the 300million brightest stars. These data make substantial contributions to astrophysics and fundamental physics on scales from the Solar System to cosmology. Reliable parallax distances in astronomy were available for of order 10^4 stars to milliarcsec (mas) precision in the 1980s, for of order 10^5 stars to mas accuracy in the 2000s, and with Gaia for more than 10^9 stars to 10μas accuracy. A knowledge revolution is underway.
Science and Technology Facilities Council (ST/L006553/1)
Science and Technology Facilities Council (ST/P001610/1)