Europe’s Gaia telescope, designed to precisely measure the motions of a billion stars in the Milky Way, will have its accuracy cut in half because of the presence of loose fibers on the telescope’s sun shield that are allowing too much stray light in.
These fibres were spotted on Gaia before launch, but cutting them off was considered too risky, because that could allow small particles to enter the spacecraft. Another option, taping them down, was also ruled out because the increased stiffness could prevent the sunshield from unfolding.
The stray light shouldn’t affect measurements of the galaxy’s brightest stars, says Gaia science team member Anthony Brown at the Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands, but it will double the expected errors on most of the stars in the Milky Way, which are much fainter.
For astronomers this is a great tragedy. Gaia will still teach us much, just not as much as they had hoped.
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