On 3 December an international team of astronomers will announce the most detailed ever catalogue of the stars in a huge swathe of our Milky Way galaxy. The measurements of stellar positions, movement, brightness and colours are in the third early data release from the European Space Agency’s Gaia space observatory and will be publicly available. Initial findings include the first optical measurement of the acceleration of the Solar system. The data set, and early scientific discoveries, will be presented at a special briefing hosted by the Royal Astronomical Society.
Launched in 2013, Gaia operates in an orbit around the so-called Lagrange 2 (L2) point, located 1.5 million kilometres behind the Earth in the direction away from the Sun. At L2 the gravitational forces between the Earth and Sun are balanced, so the spacecraft stays in a stable position, allowing long-term essentially unobstructed views of the sky.
The primary objective