The European Space Agency has launched two scientific research craft into space on an Ariane 5 rocket to help discover the origins of the universe.

One of the craft, Herschel, is equipped with the largest mirror ever launched into space and will study the birth of stars, galaxies, dust clouds and planet-forming discs around stars. It will also search for presence of water in the remote parts of the universe.

Cosmic background mapper Planck will map irregularities in fossil radiation left over from the very first light in the universe, emitted shortly after the big bang. In addition, it will study elusive dark matter and dark energy.

ESA director general Jean-Jacques Dordain said: “Herschel and Planck will enable us to go very far back in time, to the origins of our Universe.”

The most complex satellites ever built in Europe, the two craft separated from the Ariane 5 launch vehicle 26 minutes into its journey.

The satellites will begin their scientific observation after two months in separate orbits around L2 at an average distance of about 1.5 million kilometres from the Earth.