UK Gaia CU9: Delivering Gaia to the Community: 2019-2024

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Institute of Astronomy


Gaia is the cornerstone ESA mission which provides the first astrometric census of the sky. More than two billion sources will be surveyed; allowing major advances in Galactic structure and evolution, stellar evolution, solar system dynamics, exo- planetary systems, cosmology and fundamental physics. Gaia is launched in autumn 2013, with the Gaia Data Release 2 in Apr 2018, representing the first major release of full astrometry for over 1.3 billion sources.. Its huge data set will revolutionise much of astrophysics, provided astronomers can access and understand the data. This proposal is to support the UK leadership roles in Gaia data delivery to users, especially in archive design, science requirements specification, documentation, and support for public-access interface software.

Planned Impact

While the primary motivation for Gaia is to revolutionise our understanding of our Universe, Gaia is also a software and technology mission. Gaia UK technology development has two aspects. Industrial developments, for example of new classes of CCDs, ESA-funded at e2v, are already proving of wider importance, have earned the UK the Euclid contract, and are generating other new international markets. Precision control systems, and on-board real-time image processing systems (Astrium Stevenage) are intended to be applied much more widely. There are many ESA-UK industry-UK academic partnerships built on Gaia. The first Gaia data releases have underpinned significant outreach activities. The Gaia data are underpinning a range of deep learning investigations, and are being used in PhD training programmes, for instance the STFC funded CDT network in Cambridge.

The majority of development however involves fast complex processing of huge data volumes, and the development of tools to allow fast public access to huge and complex data sets. This naturally builds on and expands the Big Data and virtual observatory developments of late. The Cambridge developments in very large database systems (Spark/ Hadoop) have been adopted mission-wide, illustrating one more area of technical leadership. Gaia is the next `big beast` in data volumes, with Gaia learning experience showing applications to astronomy (Euclid/ PLATO) and wider implications for science and aspects of the digital economy. Big Data problems generically involve gathering subsets of the data for further exploration and visualising those data in some fashion. The techniques already in use in TOPCAT provide some important software approaches, and the developments to be driven by this work will be applicable to other fields, for example visualising remote sensing data monitoring crop rotation, relevant to areas such as the STFC Food network.


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Description Cambridge DiRAC 
Organisation STFC DiRAC Data Analytic Cluster (HPC Facility Cambridge)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution state of the art hardware system which provided expertise and experience to support Cambridge's DiRAC leadership role.
Collaborator Contribution experience with security of a real large data system
Impact knowledge
Start Year 2016
Description European Space Agency - ESA 
Organisation European Space Agency
Country France 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution define, develop and implement the spectro-photometric, spectroscopic and crowded imaging data processing system for the ESA Gaia mission; discover and publish science alerts from Gaia data; manage the data release documentation system, design (aspects of ) the archive structure
Collaborator Contribution manage the Gaia mission, host and operate the public data access system through ESAC
Impact during 2018 over 800 science papers were published from public Gaia data
Description Gais-ESO Public Spectroscopic Survey 
Organisation National Institute for Astrophysics
Department Arcetri Observatory
Country Italy 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution co-leads
Collaborator Contribution co-leads
Impact 450-person collaboration, 96 Institutes, over 70 papers so far. This is the biggest large-telescope stellar survey project ever attempted.
Start Year 2012
Description continuing collaboration with aerospace industry 
Organisation Airbus Group
Department Airbus Defence and Space UK
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution joint development of outreach, joint development of policy meetings, prize talks to invited groups, prize award ceremonies
Collaborator Contribution joint development of outreach, joint development of policy meetings
Impact joint outreach activities - support for most of the many listed elsewhere (about 40 events in total). Presentations/interactions with policy groups
Description continuing collaboration with public media 
Organisation British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)
Department BBC Scotland
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution this partnership covers all relevant UK and international media. It includes all the UK national newspapers, many international news agencies and sites, and many free-lance journalists, as well as specialist science media and journals. This is an ongoing more frequent than monthly series of interactions
Collaborator Contribution they disseminate the information
Impact major education of public, influence of decision makers on space science outcomes
Title TopCat 
Description TOPCAT is an interactive graphical viewer and editor for tabular data. Its aim is to provide most of the facilities that astronomers need for analysis and manipulation of source catalogues and other tables, though it can be used for non-astronomical data as well. It understands a number of different astronomically important formats (including FITS, VOTable and CDF) and more formats can be added. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2017 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact very widely used. It is the basis of much research literature. 
Description media interviews, TV and other media broadcasts 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This groups media interviews, TV and radio and other interviews and enquiries, press releases and feedback on those. These happen on average once per 2 weeks, from global sources. Initially many start as background enquiries, so the input determines what is given high media profile.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015,2016,2017,2018,2019
Description talks to public groups/societies/clubs 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact talks are given at least once per month to invited groups. these include societies, industry talks, policy talks, student groups, and many other clubs and groups. Some are private dinners for senior figures, some per-/post dinner talks for policy/industry groups, many for the interested public. They are gathered under this item, but include some 15-20 events every calendar year.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016,2017,2018,2019