Archive intro text - publications

A special issue of Astronomy & Astrophysics on the Gaia data release 1 was published in November 2016. Links to the papers in that issue can be found here.

A special issue of Astronomy & Astrophysics on the Gaia data release 2 was published in April 2018. Links to the papers in that issue can be found here.

Below is a selection of publications related to the Gaia mission.

Publication archive

Publication archive

We present the results of the very first search for faint Milky Way satellites in the Gaia data. Using stellar positions only, we are able to re-discover objects detected in much deeper data as recently as the last couple of years. While we do not identify new prominent ultrafaint dwarf galaxies, we report the discovery of two new star clusters, Gaia 1 and Gaia 2. Gaia 1 is particularly curious, as it is a massive (2.2 × 104 M⊙), large (~9 pc) and nearby (4.6 kpc) cluster, situated 10 arcmin away from the brightest star on the sky, Sirius! Even though this satellite is detected at significance in excess of 10, it was missed by previous sky surveys. We conclude that Gaia possesses powerful and unique capabilities for satellite detection, thanks to its unrivalled angular resolution and highly efficient object classification.
Published: 16 May 2017
We combine Gaia DR1, PS1, SDSS and 2MASS astrometry to measure proper motions for 350 million sources across three-fourths of the sky down to a magnitude of mr~20. Using positions of galaxies from PS1, we build a common reference frame for the multi-epoch PS1, single-epoch SDSS and 2MASS data, and calibrate the data in small angular patches to this frame. As the Gaia DR1 excludes resolved galaxy images, we choose a different approach to calibrate Gaia DR1 positions to this reference frame: we exploit the fact that the proper motions of stars in these patches are linear. By simultaneously fitting the positions of stars at different epochs -- Gaia DR1, PS1, SDSS, and 2MASS -- we construct an extensive catalog of proper motions, dubbed GPS1. GPS1 has a characteristic systematic error of less than 0.3 mas yr-1, and a typical precision of 1.5-2.0 mas yr-1. The proper motions have been validated using galaxies, open clusters, distant giant stars and QSOs. In comparison with other published faint proper motion catalogs, GPS1's systematic error (<0.3 mas yr-1) is $\sim$ 10 times better than that of PPMXL and UCAC4 (>2.0 mas yr-1). Similarly, its precision (~1.5 mas yr-1) is an improvement by $\sim$ 4 times relative to PPMXL and UCAC4 (~6.0 mas yr-1). For QSOs, the precision of GPS1 is found to be worse (~2.0-3.0 mas yr-1), possibly due to their particular differential chromatic refraction (DCR). The catalog will be released on-line and available via the VizieR Service.
Published: 18 March 2017
New astrometric reductions of the US Naval Observatory CCD Astrograph Catalog (UCAC) all-sky observations were performed from first principles using the TGAS stars in the 8–11 mag range as the reference star catalog. Significant improvements in the astrometric solutions were obtained, and the UCAC5 catalog of mean positions at a mean epoch near 2001 was generated. By combining UCAC5 with Gaia DR1 data, new proper motions were obtained for over 107 million stars on the Gaia coordinate system, with typical accuracies of 1–2 mas yr−1 (R = 11–15 mag) and about 5 mas yr−1 at 16th mag. Proper motions of most TGAS stars are improved over their Gaia data and the precision level of TGAS proper motions is extended to many millions more, fainter stars. External comparisons were made using stellar cluster fields and extragalactic sources. The TGAS data allow us to derive the limiting precision of the UCAC x, y data, which is significantly better than1/100 pixel.
Published: 20 March 2017
Context. Recently, the first installment of data from the ESA Gaia astrometric satellite mission (Gaia DR1) was released, containing positions of more than 1 billion stars with unprecedented precision. This release contains the proper motions and parallaxes, however, for only a subset of 2 million objects. The second release will include those quantities for most objects. Aims. In order to provide a dataset that bridges the time gap between the Gaia DR1 and Gaia DR2 releases and partly remedies the lack of proper motions in the former, Hot Stuff for One Year (HSOY) was created as a hybrid catalogue between Gaia and ground-based astrometry. This catalogue features proper motions (but no parallaxes) for a large percentage of the DR1 objects. While not attempting to compete with future Gaia releases in terms of data quality or number of objects, the aim of HSOY is to provide improved proper motions partly based on Gaia data and to allow studies to be carried out now or as pilot studies for later projects requiring higher precision data. Methods. The HSOY catalogue was compiled using the positions taken from Gaia DR1 combined with the input data from the PPMXL catalogue, employing the same weighted least-squares technique that was used to assemble the PPMXL catalogue itself. Results. This effort resulted in a four-parameter astrometric catalogue containing 583 million stars with Gaia DR1 quality positions and proper motions with precisions from far less than 1 mas/yr to 5 mas/yr, depending on object brightness and location on the sky.
Published: 02 March 2017

Context. Before the publication of the Gaia Catalogue, the contents of the first data release have undergone multiple dedicated validation tests.

Aims. These tests aim to provide in-depth analysis of the Catalogue content in order to detect anomalies and individual problems in specific objects or in overall statistical properties, and either to filter them before the public release or to describe the different caveats on the release for an optimal exploitation of the data.

Methods. Dedicated methods using either Gaia internal data, external catalogues, or models have been developed for the validation processes. They test normal stars as well as various populations such as open or globular clusters, double stars, variable stars, and quasars. Properties of coverage, accuracy, and precision of the data are provided by the numerous tests presented here and are jointly analysed to assess the data release content.

Results. This independent validation confirms the quality of the published data, Gaia DR1 being the most precise all-sky astrometric and photometric catalogue to date. However, several limitations in terms of completeness, and astrometric or photometric quality are identified and described. Figures describing the relevant properties of the release are shown, and the testing activities carried out validating the user interfaces are also described. A particular emphasis is made on the statistical use of the data in scientific exploitation.

Published: 27 February 2017

Context. This paper presents an overview of the photometric data that are part of the first Gaia data release.

Aims. The principles of the processing and the main characteristics of the Gaia photometric data are presented.

Methods. The calibration strategy is outlined briefly and the main properties of the resulting photometry are presented.

Results. Relations with other broadband photometric systems are provided. The overall precision for the Gaia photometry is shown to be at the milli-magnitude level and has a clear potential to improve further in future releases.

Published: 23 February 2017
We present UBVRI and CT1T2 photometry for 15 catalogued open clusters of relative high brightness and compact appearance. From these unprecedented photometric data sets, covering wavelengths from the blue up to the near-infrared, we performed a thorough assessment of their reality as stellar aggregates. We statistically assigned to each observed star within the object region a probability of being a fiducial feature of that field in terms of its local luminosity function, colour distribution and stellar density. Likewise, we used accurate parallaxes and proper motions measured by the Gaia satellite to help our decision on the open cluster reality. 10 catalogued aggregates did not show any hint of being real physical systems; three of them had been assumed to be open clusters in previous studies, though. On the other hand, we estimated reliable fundamental parameters for the remaining five studied objects, which were confirmed as real open clusters. They resulted to be clusters distributed in a wide age range, 8.0 ≤ log (t yr-1) ≤ 9.4, of solar metal content and placed between 2.0 and 5.5 kpc from the Sun. Their ages and metallicities are in agreement with the presently known picture of the spatial distribution of open clusters in the Galactic disc.
Published: 12 January 2017

Context. The European Space Agency spacecraft Gaia is expected to observe about 10 000 Galactic Cepheids and over 100 000 Milky Way RR Lyrae stars (a large fraction of which will be new discoveries), during the five-year nominal lifetime spent scanning the whole sky to a faint limit of G = 20.7 mag, sampling their light variation on average about 70 times.

Aims. We present an overview of the Specific Objects Study (SOS) pipeline developed within the Coordination Unit 7 (CU7) of the Data Processing and Analysis Consortium (DPAC), the coordination unit charged with the processing and analysis of variable sources observed by Gaia, to validate and fully characterise Cepheids and RR Lyrae stars observed by the spacecraft. The algorithms developed to classify and extract information such as the pulsation period, mode of pulsation, mean magnitude, peak-to-peak amplitude of the light variation, subclassification in type, multiplicity, secondary periodicities, and light curve Fourier decomposition parameters, as well as physical parameters such as mass, metallicity, reddening, and age (for classical Cepheids) are briefly described.

Methods. The full chain of the CU7 pipeline was run on the time series photometry collected by Gaia during 28 days of ecliptic pole scanning law (EPSL) and over a year of nominal scanning law (NSL), starting from the general Variability Detection, general Characterization, proceeding through the global Classification and ending with the detailed checks and typecasting of the SOS for Cepheids and RR Lyrae stars (SOS Cep&RRL).

[Remainder of abstract truncated due to character limitations]
Published: 24 November 2016

Context. Gaia is an ESA cornerstone mission launched on 19 December 2013 aiming to obtain the most complete and precise 3D map of our Galaxy by observing more than one billion sources. This paper is part of a series of documents explaining the data processing and its results for Gaia Data Release 1, focussing on the G band photometry.

Aims. This paper describes the calibration model of the Gaia photometric passband for Gaia Data Release 1.

Methods. The overall principle of splitting the process into internal and external calibrations is outlined. In the internal calibration, a self-consistent photometric system is generated. Then, the external calibration provides the link to the absolute photometric flux scales.

Results. The Gaia photometric calibration pipeline explained here was applied to the first data release with good Results. Details are given of the various calibration elements including the mathematical formulation of the models used and of the extraction and preparation of the required input parameters (e.g. colour terms). The external calibration in this first release provides the absolute zero point and photometric transformations from the Gaia G passband to other common photometric systems.

Conclusions. This paper describes the photometric calibration implemented for the first Gaia data release and the instrumental effects taken into account. For this first release no aperture losses, radiation damage, and other second-order effects have not yet been implemented in the calibration.

Published: 24 November 2016

The European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite was launched into orbit around L2 in December 2013 with a payload containing 106 large-format scientific CCDs. The primary goal of the mission is to repeatedly obtain high-precision astrometric and photometric measurements of one thousand million stars over the course of five years. The scientific value of the down-linked data, and the operation of the onboard autonomous detection chain, relies on the high performance of the detectors. As Gaia slowly rotates and scans the sky, the CCDs are continuously operated in a mode where the line clock rate and the satellite rotation spin-rate are in synchronisation. Nominal mission operations began in July 2014 and the first data release is being prepared for release at the end of Summer 2016. In this paper we present an overview of the focal plane, the detector system, and strategies for on-orbit performance monitoring of the system. This is followed by a presentation of the performance results based on analysis of data acquired during a two-year window beginning at payload switch-on. Results for parameters such as readout noise and electronic offset behaviour are presented and we pay particular attention to the effects of the L2 radiation environment on the devices. The radiation-induced degradation in the charge transfer efficiency (CTE) in the (parallel) scan direction is clearly diagnosed; however, an extrapolation shows that charge transfer inefficiency (CTI) effects at end of mission will be approximately an order of magnitude less than predicted pre-flight. It is shown that the CTI in the serial register (horizontal direction) is still dominated by the traps inherent to the manufacturing process and that the radiation-induced degradation so far is only a few per cent.


[Remainder of abstract truncated due to character limitations]
Published: 24 November 2016

Context. As part of the data processing for Gaia Data Release 1 (Gaia DR1) a special astrometric solution was computed, the so-called auxiliary quasar solution. This gives positions for selected extragalactic objects, including radio sources in the second realisation of the International Celestial Reference Frame (ICRF2) that have optical counterparts bright enough to be observed with Gaia. A subset of these positions was used to align the positional reference frame of Gaia DR1 with the ICRF2. Although the auxiliary quasar solution was important for internal validation and calibration purposes, the resulting positions are in general not published in Gaia DR1.

Aims. We describe the properties of the Gaia auxiliary quasar solution for a subset of sources matched to ICRF2, and compare their optical and radio positions at the sub-mas level.

Methods. Descriptive statistics are used to characterise the optical data for the ICRF sources and the optical-radio differences. The most discrepant cases are examined using online resources to find possible alternative explanations than a physical optical-radio offset of the quasars.

Results. In the auxiliary quasar solution 2191 sources have good optical positions matched to ICRF2 sources with high probability. Their formal standard errors are better than 0.76 milliarcsec (mas) for 50% of the sources and better than 3.35 mas for 90%. Optical magnitudes are obtained in Gaia's unfiltered photometric G band. The Gaia results for these sources are given as a separate table in Gaia DR1. The comparison with the radio positions of the defining sources shows no systematic differences larger than a few tenths of a mas. The fraction of questionable solutions, not readily accounted for by the statistics, is less than 6%.

[Remainder of abstract truncated due to character limitations]

Published: 24 November 2016

Context. Gaia Data Release 1 (DR1) contains astrometric results for more than 1 billion stars brighter than magnitude 20.7 based on observations collected by the Gaia satellite during the first 14 months of its operational phase.

Aims. We give a brief overview of the astrometric content of the data release and of the model assumptions, data processing, and validation of the results.

Methods. For stars in common with the Hipparcos and Tycho-2 catalogues, complete astrometric single-star solutions are obtained by incorporating positional information from the earlier catalogues. For other stars only their positions are obtained, essentially by neglecting their proper motions and parallaxes. The results are validated by an analysis of the residuals, through special validation runs, and by comparison with external data.

Results. For about two million of the brighter stars (down to magnitude ~11.5) we obtain positions, parallaxes, and proper motions to Hipparcos-type precision or better. For these stars, systematic errors depending for example on position and colour are at a level of ± 0.3 milliarcsecond (mas). For the remaining stars we obtain positions at epoch J2015.0 accurate to ~10 mas. Positions and proper motions are given in a reference frame that is aligned with the International Celestial Reference Frame (ICRF) to better than 0.1 mas at epoch J2015.0, and non-rotating with respect to ICRF to within 0.03 mas yr-1. The Hipparcos reference frame is found to rotate with respect to the Gaia DR1 frame at a rate of 0.24 mas yr-1.


[Remainder of abstract truncated due to character limitations]
Published: 24 November 2016

Context. The first data release from the Gaia mission contains accurate positions and magnitudes for more than a billion sources, and proper motions and parallaxes for the majority of the 2.5 million Hipparcos and Tycho-2 stars.

Aims. We describe three essential elements of the initial data treatment leading to this catalogue: the image analysis, the construction of a source list, and the near real-time monitoring of the payload health. We also discuss some weak points that set limitations for the attainable precision at the present stage of the mission.

Methods. Image parameters for point sources are derived from one-dimensional scans, using a maximum likelihood method, under the assumption of a line spread function constant in time, and a complete modelling of bias and background. These conditions are, however, not completely fulfilled. The Gaia source list is built starting from a large ground-based catalogue, but even so a significant number of new entries have been added, and a large number have been removed. The autonomous onboard star image detection will pick up many spurious images, especially around bright sources, and such unwanted detections must be identified. Another key step of the source list creation consists in arranging the more than 1010 individual detections in spatially isolated groups that can be analysed individually.

Results. Complete software systems have been built for the Gaia initial data treatment, that manage approximately 50 million focal plane transits daily, giving transit times and fluxes for 500 million individual CCD images to the astrometric and photometric processing chains. The software also carries out a successful and detailed daily monitoring of Gaia health.

Published: 24 November 2016

Context. At about 1000 days after the launch of Gaia we present the first Gaia data release, Gaia DR1, consisting of astrometry and photometry for over 1 billion sources brighter than magnitude 20.7.

Aims. A summary of Gaia DR1 is presented along with illustrations of the scientific quality of the data, followed by a discussion of the limitations due to the preliminary nature of this release.

Methods. The raw data collected by Gaia during the first 14 months of the mission have been processed by the Gaia Data Processing and Analysis Consortium (DPAC) and turned into an astrometric and photometric catalogue.

Results. Gaia DR1 consists of three components: a primary astrometric data set which contains the positions, parallaxes, and mean proper motions for about 2 million of the brightest stars in common with the Hipparcos and Tycho-2 catalogues – a realisation of the Tycho-Gaia Astrometric Solution (TGAS) – and a secondary astrometric data set containing the positions for an additional 1.1 billion sources. The second component is the photometric data set, consisting of mean G-band magnitudes for all sources. The G-band light curves and the characteristics of ~3000 Cepheid and RR Lyrae stars, observed at high cadence around the south ecliptic pole, form the third component. For the primary astrometric data set the typical uncertainty is about 0.3 mas for the positions and parallaxes, and about 1 mas yr-1 for the proper motions. A systematic component of ~0.3 mas should be added to the parallax uncertainties. For the subset of ~94 000 Hipparcos stars in the primary data set, the proper motions are much more precise at about 0.06 mas yr-1.
[Remainder of abstract truncated due to character limitations]

Published: 24 November 2016

Gaia is a cornerstone mission in the science programme of the European Space Agency (ESA). The spacecraft construction was approved in 2006, following a study in which the original interferometric concept was changed to a direct-imaging approach. Both the spacecraft and the payload were built by European industry. The involvement of the scientific community focusses on data processing for which the international Gaia Data Processing and Analysis Consortium (DPAC) was selected in 2007. Gaia was launched on 19 December 2013 and arrived at its operating point, the second Lagrange point of the Sun-Earth-Moon system, a few weeks later. The commissioning of the spacecraft and payload was completed on 19 July 2014. The nominal five-year mission started with four weeks of special, ecliptic-pole scanning and subsequently transferred into full-sky scanning mode. We recall the scientific goals of Gaia and give a description of the as-built spacecraft that is currently (mid-2016) being operated to achieve these goals. We pay special attention to the payload module, the performance of which is closely related to the scientific performance of the mission. We provide a summary of the commissioning activities and findings, followed by a description of the routine operational mode. We summarise scientific performance estimates on the basis of in-orbit operations. Several intermediate Gaia data releases are planned and the data can be retrieved from the Gaia Archive, which is available through the Gaia home page.

Published: 24 November 2016

Context. First results based on Gaia data show that the well-known star Gliese 710 will be the closest flyby star in the next several Myrs and its minimum distance from the Sun will be almost five times smaller than that suggested by pre-Gaia solution.

Aims. The aim of this work is to investigate the proximity parameters and the influence of the close approach of Gliese 710 on the basis of Gaia DR1. Furthermore, we compare new results with previous works based on HIP2 and Tycho 2 catalogues to demonstrate how Gaia improves the accuracy of determination of such phenomena.

Methods. Using a numerical integration in an axisymmetric Galactic model, we determine new parameters of the close encounter for Gliese 710. Adding ten thousand clones drawn with the use of a covariance matrix, we estimate the most probable position and velocity of this star at the minimum distance from the Sun.

Results. Our calculations show that Gliese 710 will pass 13365 AU from the Sun in 1.35 Myr from now. At this proximity it will have the brightness of -2.7 mag and a total proper motion of 52.28 arcsec per year. After the passage of Gliese 710 we will observe a large flux of new long-period comets. Thanks to the Gaia mission, the uncertainties of the minimum distance and time of the close approach are several times smaller than suggested by previous works based on data from earlier observations.

Published: 15 November 2016

This media kit contains background information about the Gaia mission. It has been prepared to accompany Gaia Data Release 1.

Contents:
Gaia - the Billion Star Surveyor
Fast Facts
Mapping the Galaxy with Gaia
Gaia's first data release - the Galactic Census begins
Towards the final Gaia catalogue
Making sense of it all - the role of the Gaia Data Processing and Analysis Consortium
Where is Gaia and why do we need to know?
From ancient star maps to precision astrometry
Appendices: Resources, Speakers at the press event, Media contacts

To download the pdf file click on the image or on the link to publication below.

Published: 09 September 2016
Context. The Gaia project will determine positions, proper motions, and parallaxes for more than one billion stars in our Galaxy. It is known that Gaia's two telescopes are affected by a small but significant variation of the basic angle between them. Unless this variation is taken into account during data processing, e.g. using on-board metrology, it causes systematic errors in the astrometric parameters, in particular a shift in the parallax zero-point. Previously, we suggested an early reduction of Gaia data for the subset of Tycho-2 stars (Tycho-Gaia Astrometric Solution; TGAS).
Aims. We investigate whether quasars can be used to independently verify the parallax zero-point in early data reductions. This is not trivially possible as the observation interval is too short to disentangle parallax and proper motion for the quasar subset.
Methods. We repeat TGAS simulations but additionally include simulated Gaia observations of quasars from ground-based surveys. All observations are simulated with basic angle variations. To obtain a full astrometric solution for the quasars in TGAS we explore the use of prior information for their proper motions.
Results. It is possible to determine the parallax zero-point for the quasars with a few μas uncertainty, and it agrees to a similar precision with the zero-point for the Tycho-2 stars. The proposed strategy is robust even for quasars exhibiting significant spurious proper motion due to a variable source structure, or when the quasar subset is contaminated with stars misidentified as quasars.
Conclusions. Using prior information about quasar proper motions we could provide an independent verification of the parallax zero-point in early solutions based on less than one year of Gaia data.
Published: 21 January 2016
Stars which pass close to the Sun can perturb the Oort cloud, injecting comets into the inner solar system where they may collide with the Earth. Using van Leeuwen's re-reduction of the HIPPARCOS data complemented by the original HIPPARCOS and Tycho-2 catalogues, along with recent radial velocity surveys, I integrate the orbits of over 50 000 stars through the Galaxy to look for close encounters. The search uses a Monte Carlo sampling of the covariance of the data in order to properly characterize the uncertainties in the times, distances, and speeds of the encounters. I show that modelling stellar encounters by assuming instead a linear relative motion produces, for many encounters, inaccurate and biased results. I find 42, 14, and 4 stars which have encounter distances below 2, 1, and 0.5 pc respectively, although some of these stars have questionable data. Of the 14 stars coming within 1 pc, 5 were found by at least one of three previous studies (which found a total of 7 coming within 1 pc). The closest encounter appears to be Hip 85605, a K or M star, which has a 90% probability of coming between 0.04 and 0.20 pc between 240 and 470 kyr from now (90% Bayesian confidence interval). However, its astrometry may be incorrect, in which case the closest encounter found is the K7 dwarf GL 710, which has a 90% probability of coming within 0.10–0.44 pc in about 1.3 Myr. A larger perturbation may have been caused by gamma Microscopii, a G6 giant with a mass of about 2.5 M, which came within 0.35–1.34 pc (90% confidence interval) around 3.8 Myr ago.
Published: 19 February 2015
Context. The first release of astrometric data from Gaia will contain the mean stellar positions and magnitudes from the first year of observations, and proper motions from the combination of Gaia data with Hipparcos prior information (HTPM).
Aims. We study the potential of using the positions from the Tycho-2 Catalogue as additional information for a joint solution with early Gaia data. We call this the Tycho-Gaia astrometric solution (TGAS).
Methods. We adapt Gaia's Astrometric Global Iterative Solution (AGIS) to incorporate Tycho information, and use simulated Gaia observations to demonstrate the feasibility of TGAS and to estimate its performance.
Results. Using six to twelve months of Gaia data, TGAS could deliver positions, parallaxes, and annual proper motions for the 2.5 million Tycho-2 stars, with sub-milliarcsecond accuracy. TGAS overcomes some of the limitations of the HTPM project and allows its execution half a year earlier. Furthermore, if the parallaxes from Hipparcos are not incorporated in the solution, they can be used as a consistency check of the TGAS/HTPM results.
Published: 04 February 2015
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