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Lund University plays a key role in a new prestigious project to map the galaxy

Satellite in space. Illustration.
Artist’s impression of the Gaia space telescope. Image: European Space Agencyy

Astronomers at Lund University in Sweden have played a central role in work with the Gaia space telescope. A new research project from the Gaia group in Lund has now been selected as one of two top candidates for the European Space Agency’s prestigious Voyage 2050 initiative.

Since Gaia was launched in 2013, the telescope has provided us with completely new knowledge about the Milky Way. In total, almost two billion stars have been mapped. Gaia has also played an important role in the discovery of asteroids, dark matter and exoplanets, i.e. planets located in solar systems other than our own.

Since the start of the project in 1993, Lund University has played an important role in Gaia, mainly through Lennart Lindegren, emeritus professor at the Department of Astronomy and Theoretical Physics. He is currently working with astronomers David Hobbs and Paul McMillan in a research team linked to the European space telescope. It recently emerged that a proposal for a future space mission, led by David Hobbs in Lund, had been selected as one of two candidates for the European Space Agency’s Voyage 2050 initiative as a large category mission.

“The programme is intended to start in 2025, but it will take 20 years before the new satellite can be launched around 2045. The mission in this most prestigious category will receive around SEK 10 billion in funding”, says David Hobbs, senior lecturer at the Department of Astronomy and Theoretical Physics.

The Lund team’s research project deals with what is known as astrometry – a specialisation within astronomy that studies the positions, relative distances and motions of stars. The researchers want to use visible and infrared light to probe distant and hidden regions of the Milky Way. The project aims to chart between 10 and 12 billion stars in hitherto unknown regions surrounded by dust and gas.

“Even if our project does not end up being selected in the large category, we will still have a good chance of receiving a lot of funding from the European Space Agency. That means potential funding for astronomers at Lund University over their entire research career”, says David Hobbs.

Read more about the Lund researchers’ project – springer.com

Text: Johan Joelsson.