The European space telescope Euclid has unveiled its first set of breathtaking images, offering an unprecedented view of distant galaxies, stars, and cosmic wonders. Launched on July 1, Euclid’s primary mission is to map billions of galaxies and explore the distribution of dark matter and dark energy, shedding light on the mysteries of the universe.
Among the remarkable images captured by Euclid is a detailed view of the spiral galaxy IC 342, which had previously proven challenging to observe with such clarity in a single exposure. Francis Bernardeau, deputy lead of the Euclid Consortium at CEA Paris–Saclay, described it as “the first telescope which can capture in one single exposure the entire galaxy and the surroundings with this exquisite resolution.”
While Euclid’s main camera records visible light in black and white, these stunning images were brought to life through the addition of information from the probe’s second camera. Astronomer Jean-Charles Cuillandre at CEA Paris–Saclay meticulously processed the raw data to create these captivating color images.
René Laureijs, the Euclid project scientist at the European Space Agency (ESA), explained the colorization process, noting, “What is blue in this image is really red in real life, and what is red is infrared, so it’s invisible.”
Another striking image showcases the Perseus Cluster, an assembly of over 1,000 galaxies located approximately 240 million light years away from the Milky Way. Euclid’s central mission involves mapping galaxies like these across one-third of the sky to construct a comprehensive 3D map of the Universe. This data will be instrumental in cosmological studies, enabling researchers to map the distribution of dark matter throughout the cosmos and understand the dark energy responsible for the Universe’s accelerating expansion.
Carole Mundell, the ESA director of science, emphasized the significance of Euclid’s mission during the presentation, stating, “The dark matter and the dark energy, and the physics that govern those, are encoded in the shapes and the patterns we will see in these Euclid images.” Scientists will scrutinize minute distortions in the shapes of distant galaxies, caused by the gravitational influence of foreground galaxies bending the passing light.
Euclid also achieved an unprecedented level of detail in its capture of NGC 6397, a “globular cluster” of stars located about 7,800 light years from the Solar System. Reiko Nakajima, a Euclid scientist at Bonn University in Germany, highlighted the telescope’s remarkable resolution, allowing for the observation of background galaxies behind individual stars within the cluster.
The final image showcases the ethereal Horsehead Nebula, a star-forming region in the constellation Orion. Jason Rhodes, a Euclid scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, explained the significance of the image, which captures gas and dust resulting from the explosions of dying stars, eventually coalescing to give birth to new stars.
Euclid’s extraordinary images are not only visually stunning but also hold the promise of unveiling deeper insights into the cosmos, offering a window into the awe-inspiring wonders of our universe.