The largest digital camera ever built for a space mission has been painstakingly mosaicked together from 106 separate electronic detectors. The resulting “billion-pixel array” will serve as the super-sensitive ‘eye’ of ESA’s Galaxy-mapping Gaia mission.
While the naked human eye can see several thousand stars on a clear night, Gaia will map a billion stars within our own Milky Way Galaxy and its neighbours over the course of its five-year mission from 2013, charting their brightness and spectral characteristics along with their three-dimensional positions and motions.
In order to detect distant stars up to a million times fainter than the eye can see, Gaia will carry 106 charge coupled devices (CCDs), advanced versions of chips within standard digital cameras.
Scheduled for launch in 2013, Gaia’s three-dimensional star map will help to reveal the composition, formation and evolution of the Milky Way, sampling 1% of our Galaxy’s stars.