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Digital cameras have long been used photograph faraway stars and planets. While this technology is nothing new, the billion-pixel camera on the Gaia Spacecraft, to be launched by the European Space Agency in 2013 is nothing short of amazing.

Gaia’s camera is said to be among the largest of its kind to ever exist, and it is estimated that Gaia will detect 15,000 new alien planets over the course of its mission.

Gaia’s sensors comprise of 106 separate CCD detectors, fitted together over three feet wide to form a giant camera. The system is powerful enough that it can measure the width of a hair from over 600 miles (about 966 Km) away. It is said to be able to spot a dime on the moon from earth!

The spacecraft’s mission spans five years, creating a three dimensional map of our Milky Way galaxy and its thousand million stars or so. Along the way, on average of 250 quasars, 30 brown dwarfs, 10 stars with planets orbiting them, and 10 stars exploding in other galaxies is estimated to be discovered every day.

This just puts into perspective how small and insignificant we are in the universe. I, for one, hope to see how the project will turn out. Perhaps it will be able to find some planets that could potentially carry life. Sure, modern technology will not yet allow us to visit these planets in the modern times, but I think it’s just fascinating to see what our universe has in hold for us. Maybe one day we will have to technology to traverse the stars, but for now, being able to see them is already quite a feat!