Just when we thought nothing could be more stunning than the images being released almost weekly by JWST, along comes the newest space telescope on the block – the European Space Agency’s Euclid. The mission launched in July of this year, and as with JWST, has released five images in a preview of what we can expect going forward. Keep in mind that these are early images; the telescope won’t begin routine science observations until the beginning of 2024. Still, these pictures are, in a word, amazing.
First, there is the Perseus galaxy cluster, which comprises over 1000 galaxies. Euclid has managed to see those galaxies plus about 10,000 more in the background. Some of that light has taken 10 billion years to reach us. The fantastic detail in this image and future ones will allow researchers to map out the dark matter and hopefully help us understand the role dark matter plays in these clusters.
Next, the Euclid team captured two galaxies in separate images – spiral galaxy IC 342 and irregular galaxy NGC 6822. IC 342 is a spiral just like our own Milky Way and is also known as the Hidden Galaxy because it lies behind the disk of gas and dust in our galaxy. NGC 6822, on the other end of the galaxy scale, is a dense sphere of stars with no spiral arms. These irregular galaxies are considered the building blocks of larger galaxies. Understanding them in detail will help us understand how galaxies evolve.
Adding to the data set for dark matter are globular clusters, and Euclid delivered with an image of NGC 6397. Per the ESA’s press release, “Currently no other telescope than Euclid can observe an entire globular cluster in one single observation, and at the same time distinguish so many stars in the cluster.”
Finally, we have Euclid’s image of the Horsehead Nebula, a place full of forming stars and planets, including some rogue planets. And the ESA team has made these images zoomable, so you can see one such rogue planet if you scroll into the picture. We recommend following the link in our show notes and embiggening these five pictures yourself so that you can appreciate all of the details.
The goal of the Euclid mission is to “provide a gigantic catalog of 1.5 billion galaxies by imaging and comparing the brightness of these galaxies at different wavelengths of visible and near-infrared light.”
The Euclid Consortium expects to release scientific papers on each of the five early images in the coming months in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. And we will bring you coverage of those papers and their results.