Gaia Collaboration to Receive 2023 Berkeley Prize


Artist’s illustration of ESA's Gaia satellite over a background image of the sky that was compiled using Gaia data from more than 1.8 billion observed stars.

Credit: Spacecraft: ESA/ATG medialab; Milky Way: ESA/Gaia/DPAC; CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO. Acknowledgement: A. Moitinho
Nov. 9, 2022 //

The Gaia collaboration, which is responsible for the spacecraft that is currently building the largest and most precise three-dimensional map of our galaxy, will receive the 2023 Lancelot M. Berkeley − New York Community Trust Prize for Meritorious Work in Astronomy. Bestowed annually since 2011 by the American Astronomical Society (AAS) and supported by a grant from the New York Community Trust, the Berkeley prize includes a monetary award and an invitation to give the closing plenary lecture at the AAS winter meeting, often called the “Super Bowl of Astronomy.”

The Gaia collaboration is being honoured with the 2023 Berkeley prize for enabling a transformative, multidimensional map of the Milky Way. Since its launch in 2013, the European Space Agency’s Gaia space telescope has recorded stellar positions, distances, colours, and proper motions for nearly two billion stars in our galaxy. According to the prize statement, “Gaia’s three data releases will long be regarded as major events in the history of astronomy, triggering a global partnership to better understand the origin, structure, and destiny of our home galaxy.”

Dr Katja Weingrill, PI of the Gaia project at the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam (AIP), emphasizes: “With an average of 5 scientific publications per day based on Gaia data, Gaia is the most successful astrophysical mission ever in this respect. The AIP is proud to be involved in the data analysis with software for dense sky regions, background correction of the spectra as well as a mirror of the Gaia data archive.”

Each year the three AAS Vice Presidents, in consultation with the Editor in Chief of the AAS journals, select the Berkeley prize winner for meritorious research published within the preceding 12 months. The Gaia team is recognized in particular for an article published in Astronomy & Astrophysics in May 2021 describing the early contents and survey properties behind the Gaia mission’s most recent data release.

The exquisite precision and immense volume of the Gaia survey has entirely transformed the way stellar and galactic astronomy is conducted. The mission’s three data releases thus far encompass the largest low-resolution spectroscopic and radial velocity surveys in history, capturing detailed information and mapping roughly 1.8 billion Milky Way stars, including 10 million variable stars and 813,000 binary systems. In addition, the mission is enabling advances in both extragalactic and solar system science: it has catalogued 3 million galaxies, 2 million quasars – distant and bright galactic nuclei –, and 156,000 solar system objects, including near-Earth and main-belt asteroids and trans-Neptunian objects.

Gaia’s full third data release, which was welcomed worldwide on 13 June 2022, was accompanied by nearly 50 scientific articles by the Gaia collaboration. Reflective of the mission’s impact on the science of astronomy, this immense body of work includes the highest cited papers in all of astronomy over the past year.

“The AAS and the New York Community Trust send our gratitude and congratulations to the many hundreds of scientists, engineers, and program/technical/support personnel at the European Space Agency and far beyond for bringing this transformative mission to life. Gaia will forever remain a landmark achievement in humanity’s story of cosmic exploration,” the AAS Vice Presidents commented in a statement.

The Gaia data catalogues are produced by the Gaia Data Processing and Analysis Consortium (DPAC), a collaboration that consists of hundreds of scientists and engineers from around the world, including scientists at the AIP. The Berkeley Prize will be accepted on behalf of the Gaia collaboration by Anthony Brown (Leiden Observatory), Chair of the DPAC Executive, and he will give the prize lecture on Thursday afternoon, 12 January 2023, at the Seattle Convention Center.

The key areas of research at the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam (AIP) are cosmic magnetic fields and extragalactic astrophysics. A considerable part of the institute's efforts aims at the development of research technology in the fields of spectroscopy, robotic telescopes, and E-science. The AIP is the successor of the Berlin Observatory founded in 1700 and of the Astrophysical Observatory of Potsdam founded in 1874. The latter was the world's first observatory to emphasize explicitly the research area of astrophysics. The AIP has been a member of the Leibniz Association since 1992.
Last update: 9. November 2022