“Second star to the right, and straight on till morning.”

If you’re looking for a map of the sky that’s a bit more precise than Peter Pan’s directions to Neverland, Sloan Digital Sky Survey III has just the thing for you. Scientists working through the Sloan project have released the largest-ever three-dimensional map of the universe, giving earthlings a view of nearly a million galaxies up to 12 billion light-years away.

The survey covers three times more area than the previous universe map, and scientists are far from finished. Ultimately, they want to survey a quarter of the sky — three times more than the current map covers.

The map data come from the Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico. They include images of 200 million galaxies, and more detailed information about wavelengths of light given off by 1.35 million of them. The wavelength, or “spectra,” data is a key to studying the expansion of the universe. Light shifts to longer, redder wavelengths as the universe expands.

Scientists say the data will help them understand the nature of “dark matter,” which doesn’t emit or absorb light, and “dark energy,” which is believed to cause the accelerating expansion of the universe. So far, the SDSS team says the distances between galaxy clusters they’ve observed seem to support models of the universe involving dark energy.

Besides giving us a view billions of galaxies billions of light years away, the data also shine new light on our own galaxy. The new information released by SDSS provides more accurate estimates of the temperatures and makeup of more than a half million stars in the Milky Way. That offers new insights into our galaxy’s history and the way that smaller star groups came together to build it.

Researchers have released a video simulating a flight through the universe at a speed of more than 1,000,000,000,000,000 times the speed of light. At that rate, the journey through the Milky Way, which takes 40,000 years for light to traverse, happens in a millisecond or two.

Image credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video/Flickr