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Gaia Space Telescope: First Image Published From Billion-Pixel Surveyor

06/02/2014 14:24 GMT | Updated 06/02/2014 14:59 GMT

The first image taken by Europe's incredible new billion-pixel space telescope has been published.

But the UK Space Agency and ESA say there is much, much more to come - because the machine is still learning how to focus!

When fully operational, the Gaia space telescope is going to create the most accurate map of the Milky Way galaxy ever conceived. It will be able to make precise measurements of about 1% of all the 100 billion stars in our galaxy, and tell us huge amounts about the origin and evolution of our galactic home.

The telescope will scan each of the billion suns more than 70 times each over the next five years.

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Above: the first image published by the Gaia team

The telescope is currently orbiting a point about 1.5 million kilometres from Earth, after launching on 19 December last year.

The first image, released today, shows the telescope's imaging sensors slowing being brought online and into focus - essentially a test image which scientists can use to fine-tune the instrument.

Professor Gerry Gilmore, from the University of Cambridge and UK Principal Investigator for Gaia, said:

“Seeing the first magnificent images from Gaia’s UK-built billion pixel camera first of all generates a huge vote of thanks to all those scientists and engineers who have worked so hard to make this happen. Second, it provides just a tiny taste of the excellence and challenges ahead, to turn Gaia data into human understanding of the Milky Way's origins. One substantial step for astronomy, one huge leap still to come.”