Around one billion stars in the Milky Way can be seen together for the first time in an image captured over a decade by astronomers.
Scientists produced the picture by combining infra-red light images from two telescopes in the northern and southern hemispheres.
Astronomers from the UK and Chile gathered the data which was then processed and archived by teams at the universities of Edinburgh and Cambridge who, in turn, have made it available to studies around the world.
Dr Nick Cross, of the University of Edinburgh’s school of physics and astronomy, said: “This incredible image gives us a new perspective of our galaxy and illustrates the far-reaching discoveries we can make from large sky surveys.
“Having data processed, archived and published by dedicated teams leaves other scientists free to concentrate on using the data and is a very cost-effective way to do astronomy.”
Dr Cross said the archived information on the billions of stars, known as the Vista Data Flow System, will allow scientists to carry out research in future without needing to generate further data.
As well as being published online the image is being presented at the National Astronomy Meeting in Manchester today and shows the plane of the Milky Way galaxy from Earth’s perspective.
It combines data from the UK Infrared Telescope in Hawaii and the Vista telescope in Chile.
Astronomers used infra-red radiation instead of visible light to enable them to see through much of the dust in the Milky Way and record details of the centre of the galaxy.
The work was supported by government body the Science and Technology Facilities Council.