Ghostly Cat’s Eye Nebula Shines In Space Telescope Calibration Image

by Elizabeth Howell on February 14, 2014

A view of the Cat's Eye Nebula during the calibration phase of Gaia, a Milky Way-mapping telescope. The pictures were taken on Jan. 23 (left) and Jan. 25, 2014. Credit: ESA/DPAC/Airbus DS

A view of the Cat’s Eye Nebula during the calibration phase of Gaia, a Milky Way-mapping telescope. The pictures were taken on Jan. 23 (left) and Jan. 25, 2014. Credit: ESA/DPAC/Airbus DS

Here’s a glimpse of how a telescope gets ready for its main mission. The European Space Agency’s Gaia telescope is in the middle of a commissioning phase before mapping out the locations of stars and other objects in the Milky Way. While the nominal mission is not to take pictures, it is through these images that controllers can verify that the telescope is tuned properly to do its work.

What you’re seeing is data from the Gaia camera’s “sky-mapper strips” that are actually intensity maps rendered in black and white, ESA explained. You can see in the picture above that the shot on the left is a bit blurry, while the one on the right looks a bit sharper. That’s because controllers better calibrated the charged coupled devices to the spacecraft’s spin rate, ESA said.

Lucky for us, ESA is sharing those images so we can see the process in action. This set of pictures below follows on from a calibration image of the Large Magellanic Cloud that was released last week. More details are available at ESA and also in this Dec. 19 Universe Today story.

A calibration image of M94 taken by Gaia, a Milky Way-mapping telescope, in early 2014. The gap is due to the image appearing on two separate CCDs. Credit: ESA/DPAC/Airbus DS

A calibration image of M94 taken by Gaia, a Milky Way-mapping telescope, in early 2014. The gap is due to the image appearing on two separate CCDs. Credit: ESA/DPAC/Airbus DS

Writes the European Space Agency in February 2014: "This is a rotated Gaia image section (left; extracted from the cluster image of NGC 2516 above), compared to a Digital Sky Survey image taken from the ground (right)." Credit: ESA/DPAC/Airbus DS/DSS

Writes the European Space Agency in February 2014: “This is a rotated Gaia image section (left; extracted from the cluster image of NGC 2516 above), compared to a Digital Sky Survey image taken from the ground (right).” Credit: ESA/DPAC/Airbus DS/DSS

About 

Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for Space.com, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: