University of Leicester space scientists celebrate success for Gaia

University of Leicester space scientists are celebrating success after the Gaia project, which aims to create a highly accurate 3D map of our galaxy, picked up two prestigious awards for best Space Achievement and best Space Industry/Project Team.

Professor Martin Barstow, Director of the Leicester Institute for Space and Earth Observation and PVC for Strategic Science Projects was one of three Gaia team members to collect the awards presented by astronaut Tim Peake at the UK Space Conference, along with project leader Professor Gerry Gilmore and Simon Hodgkin, both from the University of Cambridge.

The UK Gaia Science Team won the Space Achievement – Academic Study/Research award for “its role in processing and analysing data from the Gaia star mapping mission as its contribution to the European Data Processing and Analysis Consortium.”

Gaia also won the Industry/Project Team award along with Airbus Defence and Space for “the successful design and manufacture of the Gaia spacecraft and telescope which for the last three years has been accurately measuring the location and motion of the stars.”

The University’s contribution to this international project is led by Professor Barstow and has included Drs Claudio Pagani, Steve Sembay, Andy Read, Duncan Fyfe and Patricio Ortiz. The overall UK Gaia Project is led by Professor Gerry Gilmore from the University of Cambridge. Other partners are University College London, University of Edinburgh, University of Bristol and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.

By repeatedly observing a billion stars, with its billion-pixel video camera, the Gaia mission will enable astronomers to determine the origin and evolution of our galaxy whilst also testing gravity, mapping our inner solar system, and uncovering tens of thousands of previously unseen objects, including asteroids in our solar system, planets around nearby stars, and supernovae in other galaxies.

Professor Barstow said: “Gaia is one of the most exciting space missions I have worked on. Its survey of the Galaxy will be in unprecedented detail and will transform astronomy and our understanding of the Universe. Winning these awards topped off a successful few days at the UK Space Conference where the University was also showcasing its ambitions for Space Park Leicester.”

The Sir Arthur Clarke Centenary Awards (also known as the Arthurs) started in 2005 and were held earlier this month at the annual UK Space Conference Gala Dinner in Manchester.

The award is made of glass, and is based on the monolith in Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, with the same proportions (1:4:9).