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Earlier this week, the European Space Agency (ESA) shared the first full-color images from its Euclid space mission. The five images released are some of the sharpest astronomical large field of view (FOV) images ever captured.
The images include a view of a large cluster of thousands of distant galaxies, close-ups of two nearby galaxies, a gravitationally bound group of stars called a globular cluster, and a nebula.
Euclid is the ESA’s dark universe detective, tasked with the job of investigating how dark matter and energy influenced the way the universe exists today. 95% of the cosmos appears to be made of dark entities, according to the ESA, but scientists don’t fully understand what they are because of how subtle their influence is.
“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,” ESA Director of Science Professor Carole Mundell said. “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.”
Euclid telescope is able to provide a unique view of the cosmos because of its ability to create sharp visible and infrared images across a huge part of the sky in one sitting. Euclid is equipped with a VIS Instrument, which has 36 Charge Coupled Devices (CCDs). CCDs are a type of camera sensor that are arranged in a 6×6 grid for Euclid. Each sensor has more than 4000×4000 pixels.
Euclid is also equipped with a Near-Infrared Spectrometer and Photometer (NISP), which is dedicated to making spectroscopic measurements of galaxies. This involves determining how much light they emit per wavelength. This instrument is fitted with a 4×4 grid of near-infrared sensors of more than 2000×2000 pixels each.
The images released recently showcase Euclid’s capacity to create sharp images even while zooming in on distant galaxies. Euclid is currently the only telescope that can observe such a large area of the sky in a single sitting with such sharpness in visible and near-infrared light.
The telescope’s wide view is what sets it apart from other telescopes like NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, which focuses on a smaller area of the sky at any one time but typically offers higher-resolution images.
“We have never seen astronomical images like this before, containing so much detail. They are even more beautiful and sharp than we could have hoped for, showing us many previously unseen features in well-known areas of the nearby Universe. Now we are ready to observe billions of galaxies, and study their evolution over cosmic time,” René Laureijs, ESA’s Euclid Project Scientist, said.
Euclid launched on July 1, 2023, from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and has traveled nearly 1 million miles to its current vantage point. The ESA has a six-year mission planned, during which Euclid will produce the most extensive 3D map of the universe yet. The map will cover nearly one-third of the sky and contain billions of galaxies up to 10 billion light-years away from Earth.