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New telescope is helping scientists understand the universe

The European Space Agency’s recent launch of the Euclid Space Telescope marks a new era in cosmic exploration. In July, this cutting-edge observatory embarked on a mission to map the night sky, promising to deepen our understanding of the universe — both its visible wonders and elusive mysteries.

The first images released by Euclid are already captivating the scientific community. One of these images showcases the Perseus constellation, but it’s more than just a stunning snapshot of the cosmos. Each glowing cluster within the photo represents an individual galaxy, revealing the vast expanse of our universe.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 11:12 a.m. EDT on Saturday, July 1, carrying the ESA (European Space Agency) Euclid spacecraft, which has contributions from NASA.
 Credit: NASA

Euclid, now positioned about 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, has an ambitious agenda. Over the next six years, it will observe billions of galaxies — a figure far from hyperbolic. The telescope aims to create a 3D map of a third of the night sky, a scope of exploration unprecedented in history.

The galaxies Euclid will study are as distant as 10 billion light years away. The initial images, though test shots, are already demonstrating the telescope’s remarkable capabilities. For instance, one image features the spiral galaxy IC 342, intriguingly known as the “Hidden Galaxy.” This galaxy, obscured by the Milky Way’s spiral arm’s dust and gas, has remained a challenge for astronomers to observe. However, Euclid’s advanced technology allows it to peer through these cosmic veils with ease.

ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/NASA image processing by J.-C. Cuillandre (CEA Paris-Saclay) G. Anselmi

Another fascinating image is that of the globular cluster NGC 6397. This dense grouping of hundreds of thousands of stars, bound together by gravity, lies relatively close to us in cosmic terms — a mere 7,800 light years away. Capturing this image in just an hour is a testament to Euclid’s efficiency, as previously such observations required stitching together multiple photographs to avoid the brightest stars overpowering the dimmer ones.

Euclid also brings us a breathtaking view of the HSE Head Nebula, a stellar nursery where new stars are born. This nebula, the nearest of its kind to Earth, allows us to glimpse through its dust and gas at the galaxies lying behind it — a remarkable demonstration of Euclid’s observational prowess.

One of the most striking images is of a cluster of galaxies, where the background is sprinkled with an estimated 100,000 galaxies. This image, taken with such high resolution and depth, is a first for a space satellite, showcasing the vastness and intricacy of the universe in a single frame.

Euclid’s mission goes beyond capturing cosmic beauty. It aims to unravel the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy, which together are thought to comprise 95% of the universe’s matter. While dark matter’s presence is inferred from gravitational effects, dark energy remains a more elusive concept, proposed to explain the accelerating expansion of the universe.

By mapping the bending of light and the distribution of galaxies, Euclid will help locate where dark matter might be. In terms of dark energy, the mission seeks clues to understand this phenomenon, which could have profound implications for our grasp of the universe and even the fundamentals of physics, including Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Euclid’s journey into the depths of space is not just a scientific endeavor; it’s a voyage into the unknown, promising to answer some of the most profound questions about our universe. Stay tuned for more discoveries as this mission unfolds, bringing the cosmos closer than ever before.