The Euclid space telescope, which launched in July, has a very important task ahead of it: produce the largest 3D map of the universe to help solve two of astronomy’s grandest mysteries: What is dark energy? What is dark Matter ??
Regular matter, like your body, planets, and stars, only makes up about 5% of the matter in our universe, per NASA. The other 95% is made of dark matter and dark energy.
But scientists don’t know what either of these mysterious cosmic entities really are because astronomers can’t see them. Astronomers are only able to observe dark energy and dark matter’s effect on normal matter.
That’s where the European Space Agency’s Euclid telescope comes in. By taking high-resolution photos, the space telescope will help scientists study both the shapes and motions of billions of galaxies across the universe to better understand the effects of dark matter and dark energy, ESA said in a statement.
On Tuesday, ESA published the first high-res photo. “This is an iconic moment,” ESA’s Director of Science, Carole Mundell, said during an ESA-hosted livestream announcing the photos.
A spiral galaxy nicknamed the “Hidden Galaxy”
This spiral galaxy, nicknamed the “Hidden Galaxy”, lies behind lots of dust, gas, and stars, and is difficult to see from Earth.
However, because Euclid observes in infrared light, it can peer beyond the dust and gas to get a clear picture of the galaxy, Rene Laureijs, a project scientist for Euclid, explained in the ESA livestream.
“This is amazing, what the infrared is doing,” Laureijs said.
This is not only “breathtaking” but can also help scientists better understand dark matter. Guadalupe Canas Herrera said this during the ESA livestream.
She added that by analyzing the rotation speed of a spiral galaxy like this one, scientists can infer how much dark matter is in that galaxy.
A globular cluster with 400,000 stars
This photo shows a globular cluster, which is a compact region of many stars. This particular cluster, called NGC 6397, contains an estimated 400,000 stars, per the European Southern Observatory.
Having this entire cluster in one frame is something that only Euclid could do Reiko Nakajima, an astrophysicist and Euclid instrument scientist, said during the livestream.
Euclid Consortium scientist Davide Massari plans to study structures within globular clusters, like this one, to help him and colleagues calculate how these clusters move within our home galaxy. “This will tell us how dark matter is distributed in the Milky Way,” Davide said in an ESA statement.
The iconic Horsehead Nebula
The Horsehead Nebula is a favorite among space fanatics and has been photographed by other telescopes including Hubble.
The Horsehead Nebula is essentially a nursery for new stars, Jason Rhodes, a Euclid scientist who works for NASA, said during the livestream.
The cloud-like formations are the remains of dead, exploded stars. They’re gathering and re-condensing into new stars and new planets.
Mundell said this image is different than previous photos of the nebula because it’s a large field of view, it shows crystal-clear resolution, and it includes many distant galaxies surrounding the nebula.
The Perseus galaxy cluster
Most of the dots in this image are galaxies, Mundell said in the livestream.
In the foreground, you can see the famous Persues cluster, consisting of 1,000 galaxies. In the background are another 100,000 galaxies in the distant universe. The light from some of these distant galaxies took 10 billion years to reach us, per ESA.
Mundell said that they expect to find many of these galaxy clusters as Euclid continues its observations over the next six years.
“There’s so much rich science and physics to be extracted from this, even the colors tell scientists things about the composition of the galaxies,” Mundell said.
The irregular galaxy NGC 6822
In the early universe, most galaxies astronomers have observed are small with irregular shapes like NGC 6822, shown here.
Francis Bernardeau, an astrophysicist and the Euclid Consortium deputy lead, said in the ESA livestream that this photograph is evidence of Euclid’s unique power.
He compared Euclid to the James Webb Space Telescope, saying that while both are incredibly accurate, Euclid’s field of view is about 100 times bigger than JWST.
Analyzing these giant, data-filled photos over the next six years will lead to new scientific discoveries about our universe, Bernardeau added.
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