mrspoonsi writes "BBC Reports: 'Europe has launched the Gaia satellite — one of the most ambitious space missions in history. The 740m-euro (£620m) observatory lifted off from the Sinnamary complex in French Guiana at 06:12 local time (09:12 GMT). Gaia is going to map the precise positions and distances to more than a billion stars. This should give us the first realistic picture of how our Milky Way galaxy is constructed. Gaia's remarkable sensitivity will lead also to the detection of many thousands of previously unseen objects, including new planets and asteroids. Gaia will use this ultra-stable and supersensitive optical equipment to pinpoint its sample of stars with extraordinary confidence. By repeatedly viewing its targets over five years, it should get to know the brightest stars' coordinates down to an error of just seven micro-arcseconds. "This angle is equivalent to the size of a euro coin on the Moon as seen from Earth," explained Prof Alvaro Gimenez, Esa's director of science.'"