RAS Public Lecture: Gaia – Mapping the Milky Way from Space

Start Date
End Date
Gaia – Mapping the Milky Way from Space
Professor Gerry Gilmore, Cambridge University
(Venue: Geological Lecture Theatre, no booking required)Gaia is the European Space Agency mission which is revolutionising our knowledge of our Milky Way Galaxy, providing a census of positions, motions, colours, and properties of 1.5billion stars. Gaia's data are revolutionising most of astronomy, from near-Earth asteroids, through stellar evolution, the structure, formation and evolution of our Milky Way Galaxy, the distribution of Dark Matter in the Milky Way, the number of planetary systems around other stars, the cosmological distance scale, and fundamental tests of General Relativity. Gaia was launched in 2013, is operating well 1.5million km from Earth, making ultra-precise measurements for the first massive survey of stellar parallaxes, and hence distances. Gaia's billion-pixel camera measures some one million stars, 10million position measurements and 300,000 spectra of 100,000 stars per hour, over an initial 5-year mission. The Gaia satellite is the most precise large mission ever developed, with precision equivalent to measuring the thickness of a single human hair from a distance of 1000km, requiring some impressive big-data challenges. In addition to the wealth of position data Gaia's camera repeatedly scanning the sky discovers variable and new sources. These are published immediately for follow up by professional astronomers and by amateur astronomers and school classes, using remotely controlled telescopes across the world. Gaia's first major data release happens on Sept 14 2016. You can learn more, follow the mission, and download the app at https://gaia.ac.uk. Further information is available at the ESA website http://www.cosmos.esa.int/web/gaia/homeProfessor Gerry Gilmore FRS is Professor of Experimental Philosophy at the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge University. He is the UK Principal Investigator for the Gaia Data Processing and Analysis Consortium, which includes groups in Cambridge, MSSL/UCL, RAL, Leicester, Bristol and Edinburgh, and the Cambridge Gaia Data Processing Centre. Originally from New Zealand he has been involved in Gaia since it began in the early 1990s, and was one of the 4 presenters of the mission for ESA acceptance in 2000. His research interests cover Galactic structure – he discovered the Galactic thick disk in the 1980s; Galaxy evolution – he discovered the Sgr galaxy, the ongoing merger which is forming the outer Milky Way today; stellar dynamics – he determined the first modern robust measurement of the dark matter distribution near the Sun; and stellar chemical abundances – he is co-PI of the Gaia-ESO Spectroscopic survey, the largest large-telescope survey of stellar chemical abundances, mapping the history of the chemical elements of which we are made. He has published over 700 scientific articles which have been cited by other articles some 30,000 times.