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Associated Press
Berlin, December 19, 2013
The European Space Agency has launched a satellite that it hopes will produce the most accurate three-dimensional map of our part of the Milky Way galaxy. The agency says its Gaia satellite was lifted into space aboard a Russian-made Soyuz carrier system from French Guiana at 6:12 a.m. (0912 GMT; 4:12 a.m. EST) Thursday.

Gaia is heading to a stable orbit called the Lagrange 2 point where Earth will shield it from the Sun.

Once it arrives, the satellite will begin its mission to survey some 1 billion stars in Earth's galactic neighborhood.

Gaia will also use its 1,000-megapixel camera to hunt for planets, asteroids and comets beyond our Solar System, and test a key part of Albert Einstein's General Theory of Relativity.