The two-ton space telescope, launched on Thursday on a Russian Soyuz rocket, headed into orbit from the European Space Agency’s spaceport in French Guiana.
Light from the cosmos will focus onto Gaia’s eye, a single digital camera equipped with a billion-pixel CCD chip-set, the largest and most sensitive light-detector ever flown in space.
With 100 individual mini-detectors working in concert, star positions will be measured with stunning precision, down to 10 micro arc-seconds of accuracy. “This is an astonishing step up in accuracy. To give an example, Gaia will measure the difference in position of one side of a human hair compared to the other side of it—in Paris, as viewed from London,” said mission scientist Mark Cropper, from the Mullard Space Science Laboratory in a statement.