Space Telescope on a Quest to Solve Dark Matter Delivers First Images

Euclipe Telescope Images
Two of the new images from Euclid.

The Euclid space telescope, an instrument designed to solve the greatest mystery of the Universe, has sent back its first stunning images.

Developed by the European Space Agency (ESA), its unprecedented ability to combine breadth, depth, and sharpness will hopefully shed more light on the mysterious dark universe.

Perseus CLuster
The image shows 1,000 galaxies belonging to the Perseus Cluster, and more than 100,000 additional galaxies further away in the background, each containing up to hundreds of billions of stars. Many of these faint galaxies were previously unseen. Some of them are so distant that their light has taken 10 billion years to reach us.
spiral galaxy IC 342
Nicknamed the “Hidden Galaxy,” this galaxy, also known as IC 342 or Caldwell 5, is difficult to observe because it lies behind the busy disc of our Milky Way, and so dust, gas and stars obscure our view.

While the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has a much higher resolution, it cannot cover the amount of sky Euclid can with its VIS instruments comprising 36 CCD image sensors that capture 609 megapixels of image data, just under 17 megapixels per sensor.

Euclid will need this amount of data as it makes a 3D map of the Universe (time is the third dimension) in a bid to help scientists understand what dark energy and dark matter are.

NGC 6397
Located about 7,800 light-years from Earth, NGC 6397 is the second-closest globular cluster to us. Together with other globular clusters it orbits in the disc of the Milky Way, where the majority of stars are located.

Scientists know that dark energy accelerates the expansion of the Universe and hope that by observing galaxies that are 10 billion light-years away, more will be revealed about the mysterious energy.

Teething Issues

The Euclid telescope was launched in July and not everything went smoothly: Euclid’s optics initially struggled to lock on to stars, capturing loopy star trails. It meant the telescope’s fine guidance sensor required new software.

Euclid dud image
A dud image from when Euclid was having problems locking on to a “guide star” during early testing. Until engineers could upload new software to its fine guidance sensor, the observatory was swiveling all over the sky.

There were also concerns that light was polluting the images when the device was tilted at a certain angle but scientists also resolved this issue.

Horsehead nebula
A panoramic view of the Horsehead Nebula, also known as Barnard 33 and part of the constellation Orion. At approximately 1,375 light-years away, the Horsehead – visible as a dark cloud shaped like a horse’s head – is the closest giant star-forming region to Earth.
NGC 6822
An irregular dwarf galaxy called NGC 6822 located close by, just 1.6 million light-years from Earth. It is a member of the same galaxy cluster as the Milky Way (called the Local Group) and was discovered in 1884.

The five images released by the Euclid team yesterday (Tuesday) are a testament that the imaging space probe is working just fine.

“They are fantastic,” Professor Isobel Hook tells the BBC. “I finally saw the images at full resolution on Monday, and they really blew me away. We were expecting Euclid to perform very well and it really has met all our expectations. It’s a big relief and really wonderful to see.”

Image credits: ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/NASA