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Australia's first new optical telescope in 25 years will soon start its work mapping the southern sky.

The Australian National University's SkyMapper telescope is located at the Siding Spring observatory near Coonabarabran in northern New South Wales.

Science and Research Minister Kim Carr launched the new telescope in a ceremony held at the Australian National University's Mount Stromlo observatory in Canberra.

"Congratulations to the ANU and to all the brilliant men and women who have made the SkyMapper possible," Senator Carr said.

The Skymapper's main task, as its name suggests, will be to map the whole of the southern sky with the aid of its custom-made 268 megapixel digital camera.

The camera is capable of taking pictures of an area of sky 25 times larger than the full moon, at a sensitivity five million times higher than the human eye, every two minutes.

The southern sky survey could lead to the discovery of a range of cosmic phenomena such as black holes, new galaxies and even new dwarf planets in our solar system.

ANU vice-chancellor Ian Chubb said the launch was a great day for Australian astronomy, saying SkyMapper was the first new optical research grade telescope in Australia since 1984.

"It will perform a task never before undertaken."

The SkyMapper replaces the Great Melbourne Telescope destroyed in the 2003 Canberra bushfires and will begin the survey by the end of the year.

CANBERRA AAP