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European Space Agency reveals first image in 3D atlas of 1 billion stars

The stars of the Milky Way as well as other neighbouring galaxies are seen in this high-resolution image taken by ESA's Gaia satellite.
The stars of the Milky Way as well as other neighbouring galaxies are seen in this high-resolution image taken by ESA's Gaia satellite. ESA/Gaia/DPAC

If space is the final frontier, it will help to have an accurate map, and the European Space Agency said Wednesday its mission to chart more than 1 billion stars in the Milky Way is on track for completion in a year’s time.

Using observations taken from July 2014 to September 2015, the agency was able to provide a high-resolution map of our Milky Way Galaxy detailing its stars and nearby galaxies (you can see an annotated version here).

Our galaxy is a spiral galaxy with stars 100,000 light-years across and about 1,000 light-years thick (light-years are used to measure vast distances in space).

READ MORE: Only one-third of humanity can see Milky Way due to light pollution study finds

The Milky Way’s thick dust lane spans the image. There are also several star clusters, and in the lower right are two dwarf galaxies, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. The Andromeda Galaxy, our nearest neighbour, is visible (quite small) in the lower left.

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Mission manager Fred Jansen told a news conference in Madrid that the project has already collected some 500 billion measurements and he is “extremely happy” with the precision of the data. It is being distributed among scientists for analysis.

The highly precise calculations are being touted as a revolution in astrophysics. Already, 400 million new stars have been found.

— with files from The Associated Press