On November 7, 2023, the European Space Agency (ESA) released the first images from its deep space telescope, Euclid. The stunning full-color photos offer the clearest views of our cosmos yet. They are part of the telescope's six-year mission to create an extensive 3D map of the Universe around us. Scientists hope it will help solve the mysteries of dark energy and dark matter that make up 95 percent of our Universe.
"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," said ESA Director of Science, Professor Carole Mundell.
The Perseus Cluster
Located about 240 million light-years from Earth, the Perseus Cluster is one of the biggest-known structures in the Universe. It comprises thousands of galaxies immersed in a massive cloud of superheated gas.
The above image captured by Euclid shows 1,000 galaxies from the Perseus Cluster. Over 100,000 more galaxies can be seen in the background. Some are so far away that their light has taken 10 billion years to reach us. Each galaxy contains up to hundreds of billions of stars. ESA officials assert that many of them have never been seen before.
Spiral galaxy IC 342
IC 342, which lies around 11 million light-years from Earth, is often referred to as the "Hidden Galaxy." That's because the Moon-sized star cluster is located behind our Milky Way, making it hard to observe. IC342 has previously been imaged by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. However, this is the first time the entire galaxy has been captured. Scientists have already detected several new star collections.
"It is difficult to study our galaxy as we are within it and can only see it edge on. So, by studying galaxies like IC 342, we can learn a lot about galaxies like our own," explains Leslie Hunt of the National Institute for Astrophysics in Italy.
NGC 6822 is an irregular dwarf galaxy located just 1.6 million light-years from Earth. As the name implies, these clusters are smaller, comprising just a "few" billion stars. In comparison, their larger cousins can contain hundreds of billions of stars. Discovered in 1884, it belongs to the same galaxy cluster as the Milky Way. While NGC 6822 has been observed before, this is the galaxy's first high-resolution image.
Located about 7,800 light-years away, NGC 6397 is the second closest global cluster to Earth. Global clusters are made up of hundreds of thousands of stars held together by gravity. Euclid is the first telescope to image NGC 6397 in a single observation. It is also the first to image all of its stars so clearly.
The seahorse-shaped Horsehead Nebula is a cold, dense area of gas and dust. Located about 1,375 light-years away, it is the closest giant star-forming region to Earth. Many other telescopes have taken images of this nebula, but none have provided such high detail. The scientists hope the photos will help them identify newly-formed Jupiter-like planets and baby stars.
Dark matter and dark energy
Dark matter and dark energy are two of the most intriguing components of our Universe.
Dark matter is a mysterious substance that does not emit, absorb, or reflect light. This makes it invisible and extremely difficult to detect directly. Understanding dark matter is important because its gravitational pull shapes our Universe. Dark energy is a hypothetical form of energy. It is believed to be responsible for the faster expansion rate of the Universe.
Mundell explains, "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."
Resources: ESA.int, euronews.com