The European Space Agency has launched a project set to provide the first realistic three-dimensional mapping of the Milky Way.
As part of the mission, a highly precise telescope dubbed Gaia will orbit the sun at a distance of 1.5 million kilometres beyond the Earth’s orbit.
The rocket was launched on Thursday on a Russian Soyuz rocket, taking off from a space station in French Guiana.
The aim of the five-year mission is to map more than a billion stars, thereby creating a three-dimensional map of their positions and movement in space.
Scientists hope the information obtained will help them to better understand the structure and evolution of our galaxy, thereby shedding light on how it came into being.
New data on the movement of stars is also meant to allow scientists to predict incidents like the meteorite that exploded over Russia in February.
The comprehensive map, expected to collate data filling the equivalent of 20,000 DVDs, is set to be completed in 2020.
The first useable scientific data from the telescope is expected in January.
An earlier attempt by the agency to map the Milky Way took place from 1989 to 1993.
Experts say the mapping technology used for Gaia is 50 times more precise than that of its predecessor.