ESA has released the first five images from its Euclid space telescope that reveal unprecedented high-resolution pictures that cover large areas of the sky in a single shot, demonstrating its capabilities for its upcoming dark matter survey.
The most widely accepted models of the universe suggest that the visible matter that we see makes up only a tiny fraction of what actually exists. If the calculations are correct, 95% of the universe is made up of dark matter and dark energy, which is only able to interact with normal matter through gravity.
Because of this, learning anything about this mysterious darkness requires experiments conducted on a vast scale. For the Euclid mission, ESA and its international contributors are conducting a six-year survey of one-third of the sky (the Milky Way blocks most of the view) with instruments of unprecedented accuracy. The hope is that by looking at the structure of celestial bodies and how they interact with one another, it may be possible to learn about the nature and distribution of dark matter and energy.
Launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on July 1, 2023 from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, Euclid is still months away from starting its actual science mission because of the complex orbital maneuvers to reach Lagrange Point 2 (L2), as well as testing and calibrating its battery of onboard instruments.
The released images include a snapshot of the Perseus Cluster of galaxies, capturing 1,000 galaxies in the cluster about 240 million light-years away from Earth plus 100,000 more galaxies in the background. It’s believed that only dark matter can explain such clusters.
Another image is of the Spiral galaxy IC 342, also known as the Hidden Galaxy or Caldwell 5, which bears a strong resemblance to our own galaxy
The third image of the irregular galaxy NGC 6822, which has a structure typical of those of early galaxies at the edge of the universe, even though it’s only 1.6 million light-years from Earth.
The fourth image is of NGC 6397. This is a globular cluster 7,800 light-years from Earth that is made up of hundreds of thousands of stars bound together by gravity. This image is historic because Euclid is the only telescope that can capture an entire cluster in a single image in such detail rather than a mosaic.
The fifth and final released image is a pure beauty shot of the Horsehead Nebula, or Barnard 33, in the constellation of Orion. The hope is that Euclid will shed new light on such stellar nurseries by discovering new, young Jupiter-mass planets as well as young brown dwarfs and baby stars.
“Dark matter pulls galaxies together and causes them to spin more rapidly than visible matter alone can account for; dark energy is driving the accelerated expansion of the universe. Euclid will for the first time allow cosmologists to study these competing dark mysteries together,” said ESA Director of Science, Professor Carole Mundell. “Euclid will make a leap in our understanding of the cosmos as a whole, and these exquisite Euclid images show that the mission is ready to help answer one of the greatest mysteries of modern physics.”