Astronomy

Enjoy Five New Images from the Euclid Mission

We’re fortunate to live in these times. Multiple space telescopes feed us a rich stream of astounding images that never seems to end. Each one is a portrait of some part of nature’s glory, enriched by the science behind it all. All we have to do is revel in the wonder.

The ESA’s Euclid space telescope is the latest one to enrich our inboxes. It was launched on July 1st, 2023, and delivered its first images in November of that year. Now, we have five new images from Euclid, as well as the first science results from the wide-angle space telescope.

“They give just a hint of what Euclid can do.”

Valeria Pettorino, ESA’s Euclid Project Scientist.

The images demonstrate the telescope’s power and its ability to address some of the deepest questions we have about the Universe. They are also impressive because of their visual richness and because they took only 24 hours of the telescope’s expected six years of observing time.

“Euclid is a unique, ground-breaking mission, and these are the first datasets to be made public – it’s an important milestone,” says Valeria Pettorino, ESA’s Euclid Project Scientist. “The images and associated science findings are impressively diverse in terms of the objects and distances observed. They include a variety of science applications, and yet represent a mere 24 hours of observations. They give just a hint of what Euclid can do. We are looking forward to six more years of data to come!”

The leading image is the most stunning and perhaps the most relatable. It shows Messier 78, aka NGC 2068. It’s a reflection nebula and star-forming region contained in the vast Orion B molecular cloud complex. Euclid used its infrared capabilities to see through the dust that shrouds the star-formation region. It’s given us our most detailed look at the filaments of gas and dust that give the region its ghostly appearance.

Euclid can detect objects that are just a few times more massive than Jupiter, an impressive feat. In its M78 image, it found over 300,000 objects in that mass range.

This zoomed-in portion of Euclid’s M78 image shows the depth the telescope’s images deliver. Image Credit: ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/NASA, image processing by J.-C. Cuillandre (CEA Paris-Saclay), G. Anselmi. LICENCE CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

One of Euclid’s objectives is to study dark matter and how it’s distributed in the Universe. It uses gravitational lensing to probe dark matter, and its image of the Abell 2390 galaxy cluster exhibits the tell-tale curved arcs of light coming from distant background objects created by gravitational lensing. The image also shows more than 50,000 galaxies.

Euclid’s image of the Abell 2390 cluster of galaxies contains over 50,000 galaxies. It also shows the intracluster light that comes from individual stars torn from their galaxies and sitting in intergalactic space. These stars can help astrophysicists determine where dark matter is. Image Credit: ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/NASA, image processing by J.-C. Cuillandre (CEA Paris-Saclay), G. Anselmi.
LICENCE: CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Most of the stars currently forming in the Universe are forming in spiral galaxies. Euclid captured this image of NGC 6744 as an archetype of that galaxy type. The telescope’s wide-angle lens and depth of field capture the entire galaxy and also small details. It shows lanes of dust that emerge as spurs on the spiral arms.

With this image, astronomers can map individual stars and the gas that feeds their formation. They can also identify globular clusters and new dwarf galaxies. Euclid already found one new dwarf galaxy astronomers have never seen before, which is impressive for a galaxy that’s already been studied so intently.

Euclid’s complete image of NGC 6744 is on the left, and a zoomed-in portion is on the right. NGC 6744 is one of the largest spiral galaxies outside our region of space. The telescope’s detailed image will let astronomers count and map individual stars and the gas that feeds star formation. Star formation is how galaxies evolve, so studying NGC 6744’s star formation activity feeds into a greater understanding of galaxy evolution. Image Credit: ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/NASA, image processing by J.-C. Cuillandre (CEA Paris-Saclay), G. Anselmi. LICENCE: CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Euclid also imaged another galaxy cluster, Abell 2764. This cluster contains hundreds of galaxies within a halo of dark matter. Euclid’s impressive wide-field view comes into play in this image. Not only does it show Abell 2764 in the image’s upper right, but it also shows other clusters that are even more distant, multiple background galaxies, and interacting galaxies with their streams of stars.

In this image, Euclid captured galaxy cluster Abell 2764 and the wider region surrounding it. Abell 2764 is in the upper right corner. Image Credit: ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/NASA, image processing by J.-C. Cuillandre (CEA Paris-Saclay), G. Anselmi LICENCE CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

The image highlights one of Euclid’s other capabilities. The foreground star is in our own galaxy, and when viewed with a telescope, its diffuse light creates a halo that obscures distant objects behind it. Euclid was built to minimize that diffuse halo effect. The disturbance from the star’s diffuse light is minimal, meaning Euclid can see distant background objects near the star’s line of sight.

This pair of zoomed-in images of Abell 2764 shows Euclid’s power. On the left is the foreground star. These stars can create halos of diffuse light that obscure other objects, but Euclid is built to minimize the effect. On the right is a zoom-in of Abell 2764 itself, with multitudes of background galaxies. Image Credit: ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/NASA, image processing by J.-C. Cuillandre (CEA Paris-Saclay), G. Anselmi. LICENCE: CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

The final of the five new images is of galaxies in the Dorado Group. Euclid’s image shows signs of galaxies merging. The Dorado Group is a relatively young group, and many of its member galaxies are still forming stars. The image helps astronomers study how galaxies form and evolve inside halos of dark matter.

The Dorado Group is one of the richest galaxy groups in the southern hemisphere. Euclid’s wide and deep images give astronomers their best look at it. Image Credit: ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/NASA, image processing by J.-C. Cuillandre (CEA Paris-Saclay), G. Anselmi. LICENCE: ESA Standard Licence

A zoomed-in image shows more detail of the main pair of galaxies in the image. Euclid’s unique large field-of-view and high spatial resolution means that for the first time, astronomers can use the same instrument and observations to deeply study tiny objects the size of star clusters, intermediate objects like the central regions of galaxies, and larger features like tidal tails in one large region of the sky.

“The beauty of Euclid is that it covers large regions of the sky in great detail and depth, and can capture a wide range of different objects all in the same image – from faint to bright, from distant to nearby, from the most massive of galaxy clusters to small planets.”

ESA Director of Science, Prof. Carole Mundell

Prior to Euclid, astronomers had to use small chunks of data to painstakingly catalogue globular clusters around galaxies. But Euclid’s wide images capture far more data in a single image, simplifying the task. Globular clusters provide important clues to how galaxies evolve over time.

This zoom-in shows a pair of interacting galaxies in the Dorado Group. Tidal tails of stars are visible as wispy streams near the right and bottom right of the right-side galaxy. Image Credit: ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/NASA, image processing by J.-C. Cuillandre (CEA Paris-Saclay), G. Anselmi. LICENCE: ESA Standard Licence

Euclid’s mission is only starting. The telescope’s images so far have no equivalent, and there’s much more to come. Euclid hasn’t even begun its main survey yet. That survey will comprise both a wide survey covering about 15,000 square degrees of the sky and a deep survey covering about 50 square degrees.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that the results we’re seeing from Euclid are unprecedented,” says ESA Director of Science, Prof. Carole Mundell. “Euclid’s first images, published in November, clearly illustrated the telescope’s vast potential to explore the dark Universe, and this second batch is no different.”

“The beauty of Euclid is that it covers large regions of the sky in great detail and depth, and can capture a wide range of different objects all in the same image – from faint to bright, from distant to nearby, from the most massive of galaxy clusters to small planets,” said Mundell. “We get both a very detailed and very wide view all at once. This amazing versatility has resulted in numerous new science results that, when combined with the results from Euclid’s surveying over the coming years, will significantly alter our understanding of the Universe.”

The scientific papers released with these images are available here.

Evan Gough

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