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Friday, March 19, 1999 Published at 08:12 GMT


New maps of the sky unveiled

Unfolding a new sky map

Astronomers have unveiled the first images from the most ambitious survey of the heavens ever attempted. Our science correspondent David Whitehouse reports.

Using what has been called "the most complicated camera ever built", connected to a large optical telescope in New Mexico, astronomers have begun a project to probe 40 times further into space than any earlier survey of the stars.

Members of the project displayed their initial results when they unfurled a 11 metre (35ft) long photo at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

[ image: An galaxy pictured on the first image]
An galaxy pictured on the first image
The initial image contains a fraction of 1% of the final data. The goal is to catalogue 100 million of the brightest galaxies and 100,000 quasars, which are the exploding hearts of galaxies almost at the edge of the observable universe.

When the survey is complete in seven years' time, it will be available to anyone via the Internet.

The survey will also collect the spectra, or light composition of the objects. In the first two weeks of operation, it collected more spectra than all the other surveys ever made.

The last major photographic survey of the sky was carried out in the 1950's by the then new giant telescope at Mt Palomar in California.

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