July 19, 2024

Euclid Space Telescope: A Glimpse into the Mysteries of the Universe

3 min read

Europe’s new space telescope, Euclid, has recently captured its first breathtaking images of deep space, giving us a tantalizing glimpse of what is yet to come. Not only are these images mesmerizing, but they also confirm that all of the telescope’s instruments are functioning smoothly. This comes as a major relief to the scientists at the European Space Agency (ESA), who have dedicated 16 years and €‎1.4bn to develop this groundbreaking telescope.

Launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida on July 1st, Euclid is now nearing its destination – the Second Lagrange Point, located approximately 1.5 million km from Earth. This vantage point is also occupied by the super-telescope James Webb. While James Webb is designed to zoom in on specific details, Euclid has a different mission – to go “fast and wide.” Over the course of its six-year lifespan, Euclid will observe billions of galaxies up to 10 billion light years away, creating the largest 3D map of the sky ever produced.

This extraordinary map will provide invaluable insights into the expansion of the universe and the evolution of its structure throughout cosmic history. It will also shed light on the role of gravity, as well as the enigmatic nature of dark energy and dark matter. These phenomena, which make up 95% of the cosmos, appear to govern the shape and expansion of everything we see out there, yet their true nature remains a mystery.

“It’s exhilarating and enormously emotional to see these first images,” said Euclid project manager Giuseppe Racca. “It’s even more incredible when we think that we see just a few galaxies here, produced with minimum system tuning.”

The black and white images captured by Euclid’s visible light instrument (VIS) reveal a glimpse of the galaxies visible to the human eye. This camera will go on to capture sharp shots of billions of galaxies, allowing scientists to measure their shapes. The European Space Agency compares the range of these close-up shots to about one-quarter the width and height of the full moon as seen from Earth – a mere fraction of the night sky.

On the other hand, the red images were taken by the Near-Infrared Spectrometer and Photometer (NISP) instrument, which captures infrared light and measures the amount of light emitted by galaxies at each wavelength. The ESA highlights that these images showcase a variety of celestial objects, including spiral and elliptical galaxies, nearby and distant stars, and star clusters.

Interestingly, if you examine the VIS imagery closely, you’ll notice numerous streaks. These are the tracks left by high-energy particles, known as cosmic rays, which strike the camera’s detectors at various angles, leaving behind lines of different lengths. Reiko Nakajima, one of the scientists involved in developing the VIS instrument, describes the images as beautiful and emphasizes that ground-based tests cannot provide such detailed views of galaxies or stellar clusters.

In addition to these images, the infrared NISP camera also captured a third image. Each streak in this image represents the light spectrum of an individual galaxy or star. This unique way of observing the universe allows scientists to determine the composition of each galaxy and its distance from Earth.

While these initial images are already impressive, the ESA clarifies that they are merely early test images used to assess the instruments and refine the spacecraft. More detailed images will be released in the future.

If Euclid proves successful, it will provide us with an unprecedented chronology of the cosmos and help unravel the mysteries of the universe – including our own existence.

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