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The Gaia Collaboration including CSFK researchers wins 2023 Berkeley Prize for creation of revolutionary new 3D map of the Milky Way


The Konkoly Thege Miklós Astronomical Institute of the ELKH Research Centre for Astronomy and Earth Sciences (CSFK) and several Hungarian researchers are part of the consortium that has been awarded the 2023 Lancelot M. Berkeley – New York Community Trust Meritable Work in Astronomy Prize. The prize was awarded to the consortium responsible for the implementation of the Gaia project for creating the largest and most accurate three-dimensional map of the Milky Way.

The Berkeley Prize, which has been awarded by the American Astronomical Society (AAS) since 2011 with the support of a scholarship from the New York Community Trust, includes a monetary award and an invitation to deliver the closing speech at the society's winter congress. The AAS winter conferences are often referred to as the 'Super Bowl' of astronomy. At the upcoming 241st meeting to be held in January 2023 in Seattle, Washington the Berkley Prize will also be presented.

The Gaia Collaboration will receive the 2023 Berkeley Prize for the creation of a revolutionary new, multidimensional map of the Milky Way. Since its launch in 2013 the European Space Agency's (ESA) Gaia space telescope has recorded the position, distance, color and motion of nearly 2 billion stars in our galaxy. Gaia's three major data releases to date will be seen as events of immense importance in the history of astronomy for a long time to come. The releases have facilitated global collaborations that help us better understand the origin, structure and density of our own galaxy.

The vice-presidents of the AAS, together with the editors-in-chief of the scientific journals published by the association, choose the winner of the Berkeley Prize every year based on the scientific publications of the previous 12 months. The Gaia team will primarily receive the award in recognition of a study published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics in May 2021. In this article the authors described the characteristics of the survey behind Gaia's latest data release, as well as its first scientific results.

Gaia has completely reshaped our relationship with the stars and the Milky Way thanks to the extreme accuracy of its observations of the sky and the enormous amount of data it has produced. The three data catalogs published to date include the largest low-resolution spectroscopic and radial velocity survey to date, and contain detailed information on roughly 1.8 billion stars in the Milky Way, including 10 million variable stars and 813,000 binary stars. In addition, Gaia has become a pioneer in extragalactic and solar system astronomy, as the catalog includes data on 3 million galaxies, 2 million quasars (bright, distant galactic nuclei) and 156,000 small celestial bodies from the Solar System, including near-Earth and main belt asteroids and objects beyond Neptune.

Gaia's third data release on June 13, 2022 accompanied by nearly 50 scientific publications produced by the Gaia team, was welcomed by researchers worldwide. One of the articles was written under Hungarian leadership: Gábor Marton and his colleagues compiled the largest catalog of young stars to date based on their light changes. The impact of the Gaia mission on astronomy is well reflected by the fact that this enormous amount of work has been covered in dozens of articles, including the most cited articles across the entire discipline in the past year.

The Gaia catalogs are produced by the Gaia Data Processing and Analysis Consortium (DPAC), which is a collaboration of hundreds of researchers and engineers from around the world. Péter Ábrahám, Ágnes Kóspál, Mária Kun, Gábor Marton, László Molnár, Zsófia Nagy, Emese Plachy, László Szabados and Elza Szegedi-Elek also participated in the preparation of Gaia's third data catalog. Anthony Brown (Leiden Observatory, The Netherlands), Chairman of the DPAC Executive Committee will receive the Berkeley Award on behalf of the Gaia Collaboration, and his speech will take place at the Seattle Convention Center on January 12, 2023.