Astronomers at Kent and Hertfordshire universities are over the moon at winning a grant that will allow them to map large regions of the sky up to a thousand times faster than current technology allows.
Together with the University of British Columbia and the Joint Astronomy Centre, the UK universities have been awarded 1,500 hours of observatory and survey time on the world's largest astronomical telescope at the Mauna Kea Observatories in Hawaii.
The grant has been valued by the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council at £2.1 million.
Using new equipment called Scuba-2, which is still being built at the Astronomy Technology Centre in Edinburgh, the astronomers will take part in a five-year study from 2006 in which they will search for unknown and invisible star-forming clouds and galaxies.
Stephen Serjeant, lecturer at Kent's Centre of Astrophysics and Planetary Science, said: "This survey will blow previous research out of the water. It's really exciting to be involved in making big new discoveries."
The Hertfordshire team will lead part of the survey that will search the Milky Way, while the Kent team will lead a search into deeper space.
Mark Thompson, astronomy lecturer at Hertfordshire's Centre for Astrophysics Research, said: "Scuba-2 works in the sub-millimetre range of the spectrum and picks out objects that are not usually seen by optical telescopes. What this means is that for the first time we have a camera that can practically find all of the star-forming regions within our own galaxy."
He added: "For me, this opens up a window I have not had an opportunity to look through before. It is completely revolutionary."