The powerful Gaia space telescope designed to create a 3D map of stars in the Milky Way will also detect killer asteroids on a potentially fatal collision course with our planet when it is launched next month. The European Space Agency’s 800 million pounds probe will become the Earth’s first early warning system against asteroid impacts — even those that lie centuries ahead. One of the key tasks of the telescope, featuring the most high-powered video camera ever built, is to stare at the space between the Earth and the Sun to plot the tracks of the thousands of asteroids lurking there. Astronomers have not been able to spot such asteroids because they orbit between the Earth and the Sun, whose radiation blinds telescopes, but they are regarded as the most dangerous because their orbits often cross the Earth’s. — PTI