To say a picture is worth a thousand words would be selling this one rather short.

This edge-on image of the Milky Way contains at least a billion stars. The full version is available here. But be warned: it's 39,300 by 3,750 pixels. My laptop was not at all happy when I tried to download it, and your machine may feel similarly.

The truth is that no computer screen could ever really do it justice. But here we go anyway...

Scientists made the image by combining infrared images from two sky surveys done by the UK Infrared Telescope in Hawaii and ESO's VISTA in Chile. By looking at infrared light, scientist are able to cut through much of the dust in the Milky Way that would otherwise obscure light coming from the centre of the galaxy.

After collection, the data was processed and archived by teams at the universities of Edinburgh and Cambridge in the UK. It is now available to researchers around the world who want to have a go at analysing it.

"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," said Nick Cross from the University of Edinburgh, in a press release for the picture.

The project is called the VISTA Data Flow System and is funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council. It aims to make use of the vast amount of data the telescope is capable of recording – up to 1.4 TB per night for 10 years. The idea is that the data will be stored in an archive that is "more than a simple repository of data." Scientists should be able to mine this archive for discoveries in years to come.

This one should keep them busy for a while.