Spacecraft's billion-pixel camera to spot 10 new planets per day

In 2013, the European Space Agency will launch the Gaia spacecraft. Its billion-pixel imaging sensor will be among the largest digital cameras ever to exist, and over the course of its mission, it's estimated that Gaia will detect 15,000 new alien planets.

Gaia's gigantic sensor is comprised of 106 separate CCD detectors, mosaiced together to form a monster camera over three feet wide. The resulting imaging system is so powerful that it will be able to precisely measure the width of a hair from over 600 miles away, and from here on Earth, it could spot a dime on the moon.

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Hair measuring and dime spotting are not what Gaia is going to be spending her time at, of course. The spacecraft will spend five years creating a three dimensional map of our entire galaxy, including, oh, about a thousand million stars or so. Along the way, it's expected to detect (on average) 250 quasars, 30 brown dwarfs, 10 stars with planets orbiting them, and 10 stars exploding in other galaxies - every day. It's numbers like this that make you realize just how stupendously gigantic the universe really is, and we'll start seeing brand new pics of the place back from Gaia sometime in 2013.

ESA Gaia, via NetworkWorld

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