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Space mission to be awarded top astronomy accolade

Artist impression of ESA’s Gaia satellite observing the Milky Way. The background image of the sky is compiled from data from more than 1.8 billion stars. It shows the total brightness and colour of stars observed by Gaia released as part of Gaia’s Early Data Release 3 (Gaia EDR3) in December 2020. ©Spacecraft: ESA/ATG medialab; Milky Way: ESA/Gaia/DPAC.

A space collaboration mission in which Leicester researchers took a leading role is set to receive a prestigious award for “transforming our understanding of the universe.”

On the 12 January, 2023, the Gaia Collaboration will be honoured with the 2023 Berkeley Prize for Meritorious Work in Astronomy for developing a transformative, multidimensional map of the Milky Way.

Researchers from the University of Leicester have been at the forefront of the Gaia Collaboration, which is responsible for the spacecraft that is currently building the largest and most precise three-dimensional map of our galaxy.

According to the prize statement, the European Space Agency (ESA) Gaia mission’s three data releases will long be regarded as major events in the history of astronomy, triggering a global partnership to better understand the origin, structure and destiny of our home galaxy.

Martin Barstow, Professor of Astrophysics and Space Science at the University of Leicester, Chair of Midlands Innovation Space Group and Director of Strategic Partnerships at Space Park Leicester, said:

“It is wonderful to see the Gaia Collaboration recognised with this prize.

“Numbering around 450 people across Europe, this team is responsible for processing and analysing the data from the ESA Gaia mission, measuring the distances, motions and properties of almost two billion stars in our Galaxy.”

He added: “The Leicester team has been at the forefront of the development of the mission from its first concept and now provide detailed understanding of the camera performance that allows the required precision of the measurements to be achieved.

“The Gaia catalogues are a historical moment in the development of astronomy, transforming our understanding of the Universe.”

The Lancelot M. Berkeley – New York Community Trust Prize for Meritorious Work in Astronomy is awarded annually for highly meritorious work in advancing the science of astronomy during the previous year by the American Astronomical Society.

Space Park Leicester by the University of Leicester is world-leading cluster for innovative research, enterprise and education in space and Earth observation and provides state-of-the-art facilities for research, development and manufacturing.