ESA’s Euclid space mission, launched on 1 July, finally reveals its first full-colour images of the cosmos. Never before has a telescope been able to create such razor-sharp astronomical images across such a large patch of the sky, and looking so far into the distant Universe, up to distances of 10 billion light years. These five images illustrate Euclid's full potential and show that the telescope is ready to create the most extensive 3D map of the Universe yet.
The Spanish contribution to the payload of the Euclid telescope has been organised around two nodes that joined the scientific consortium in 2010. On the one hand, the Institute of Space Sciences (ICE-CSIC), the Institute of High Energy Physics (IFAE), the Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia (IEEC) and the Scientific Information Port (PIC), have been responsible for the design, construction, assembly and validation tests of the NISP instrument filter wheel, as well as the cosmological simulations of the mission. On the other hand, the Polytechnic University of Cartagena (UPCT) and the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC), have been in charge of the electronic unit that controls the NISP instrument and its startup software. Besides, both nodes participate in several teams to prepare the scientific exploitation of the telescope data. Furthermore, in more than 20 Spanish institutions there are around 100 scientists arranging the scientific exploitation of the mission to unravel the mysteries of the dark universe.
The mission aims at investigating dark matter and dark energy, that make up 95% of our cosmos. Its nature has not been unravelled yet, because their presence causes only very subtle changes in the appearance and motions of the things we can see. To reveal the influence of dark matter and dark energy on the visible Universe, over the next six years Euclid will observe the shapes, distances and motions of billions of galaxies out to 10 billion light-years. By doing this, it will create the largest cosmic 3D map ever made. What makes Euclid’s view of the cosmos special is its ability to create a remarkably sharp visible and infrared image across a huge part of the sky in just one sitting.
“It is extraordinarily pleasing and rewarding to see these beautiful images taken with an instrument that we have built over so many years. It is amazing to realise that something that you have built is far away in space and is able to reveal the universe in such detail. We are looking forward to the science discoveries to come.”, says ICE-CSIC and IEEC researcher and member of the Euclid Consortium Francisco Castander.
In addition, Euclid Consortium members and researchers responsible for the contribution of the UPCT in Euclid for engineering, Rafael Toledo, and science, Anastasio Díaz Sánchez and Antonio Pérez Garrido, highlight “the enormous satisfaction of seeing how technology and science developed in Spanish universities occupy a prominent a place in such a historic mission as Euclid.”
The images released today showcase this special capacity: from bright stars to faint galaxies, the observations show the entirety of these celestial objects, while remaining extremely sharp, even when zooming in on distant galaxies.
“These fantastic images are the first among thousands to come to help us understand what the real content of our accelerated expanding universe is. Even if the commissioning phase is not complete, we can already see the unprecedented capabilities of Euclid and how the instruments we have built during several years work together perfectly. I am looking forward to seeing the rich scientific results that are about to come”, adds Cristóbal Padilla, IFAE researcher and member of the Euclid Consortium.
“Dark matter pulls galaxies together and causes them to spin more rapidly than visible matter alone can account for; dark energy is driving the accelerated expansion of the Universe. Euclid will for the first-time allow cosmologists to study these competing dark mysteries together,” explains ESA Director of Science, Professor Carole Mundell. “Euclid will make a leap in our understanding of the cosmos as a whole, and these exquisite Euclid images show that the mission is ready to help answer one of the greatest mysteries of modern physics.”
“I wish to congratulate and thank everyone involved with making this ambitious mission a reality, which is a reflection of European excellence and international collaboration. The first images captured by Euclid are awe-inspiring and remind us of why it is essential that we go to space to learn more about the mysteries of the Universe,” says ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher.
ICE-CSIC and IEEC researcher and member of the Euclid consortium Pablo Fosalba adds: “These incredible first images already illustrate the huge amount of high-quality data that Euclid will provide about our Universe. Observing billions of galaxies, with this level of detail, is something that has never been done before. It will certainly revolutionise our understanding of how dark-matter and dark-energy determine the origin and evolution of the Universe.”
The Perseus Cluster of galaxies. Credits: ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/NASA, image processing by J.-C. Cuillandre (CEA Paris-Saclay), G. Anselmi; CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.
This incredible snapshot from Euclid is a revolution for astronomy. The image shows 1000 galaxies belonging to the Perseus Cluster, and more than 100 000 additional galaxies further away in the background.
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. By mapping the distribution and shapes of these galaxies, cosmologists will be able to find out more about how dark matter shaped the Universe that we see today.
This is the first time that such a large image has allowed us to capture so many Perseus galaxies in such a high level of detail. Perseus is one of the most massive structures known in the Universe, located ‘just’ 240 million light-years away from Earth.
Astronomers demonstrated that galaxy clusters like Perseus can only have formed if dark matter is present in the Universe. Euclid will observe numerous galaxy clusters like Perseus across cosmic time, revealing the ‘dark’ element that holds them together.