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Mapping a billion stars in our galaxy.
The European Space Agency is working an ambitious new space observatory that will be capable of precisely mapping a billion stars in our galaxy. Called Gaia, the spacecraft will launch in 2010 and observe the sky for a period of five years. Astronomers will compile this detail into a 3D map of a billion stars, including their position, motion and even composition. With such a comprehensive map of the sky, Gaia will turn up all kinds of new objects, and give Astronomers plenty of future targets to study with more sensitive instruments.
Only days after arriving at Saturn, Cassini made its first flyby of Titan, the planet's largest moon. The spacecraft only got as close as 339,000 km (210,600 miles), but that was enough to reveal surprising new features about the moon's surface. Cassini is equipped with special camera filters that allow it to peer through the thick clouds that obscure most wavelengths of light. Darker regions seem to be made up of water ice, while the lighter regions are a mixture of ice and hydrocarbons. Cassini is scheduled to make 45 flybys of Titan, getting as close as 950 km (590 miles), so the view will only get better.
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