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The European Space Agency (ESA) has released the first images from its Euclid space telescope — a spacecraft peering 10 billion years into the past to create the largest 3D map of the universe yet. From the distinctive Horsehead Nebula (pictured above) to a “hidden” spiral galaxy that looks much like the Milky Way, Euclid is giving us the clearest look yet at both known and previously unseen objects speckling enormous swathes of the sky.
Euclid is investigating the “dark” universe, searching for signs of how dark energy and dark matter have influenced the evolution of the cosmos. It’ll observe one-third of the sky over the next six years, studying billions of galaxies with its 4-foot-wide telescope, visible-wavelength camera and near-infrared camera/spectrometer. Euclid launched in July 2023, and while its official science mission doesn’t start until early 2024, it’s already blowing scientists away with its early observations.
Euclid’s observation of the Perseus Cluster (above), which sits 240 million light-years away, is the most detailed ever, showing not just the 1,000 galaxies in the cluster itself, but roughly 100,000 others that lay farther away, according to ESA. The space telescope also caught a look at a Milky-Way-like spiral galaxy dubbed IC 342 (below), or the “Hidden Galaxy,” nicknamed as such because it lies behind our own and is normally hard to see clearly.
Euclid is able to observe huge portions of the sky, and it’s the only telescope in operation able to image certain objects like globular clusters in their entirety in just one shot, according to ESA. Globular clusters like NGC 6397, pictured below, contain hundreds of thousands of gravity-bound stars. Euclid’s observation of the cluster is unmatched in its level of detail, ESA says.
The spacecraft is able to see objects that have been too faint for others to observe. Its detailed observation of the well-known Horsehead Nebula, a stellar nursery in the Orion constellation, for example, could reveal young stars and planets that have previously gone undetected.
Euclid also observed the dwarf galaxy, NGC 6822 (pictured above), which sits just 1.6 million light years away. This small, ancient galaxy could hold clues on how galaxies like our own came to be. It’s only the beginning for Euclid, but it’s already helping to unlock more information on the objects in our surrounding universe, both near and far.
“We have never seen astronomical images like this before, containing so much detail,” said René Laureijs, ESA’s Euclid Project Scientist, of the first batch of images. “They are even more beautiful and sharp than we could have hoped for, showing us many previously unseen features in well-known areas of the nearby universe.”
This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/esa-releases-stunning-first-images-from-euclid-its-dark-universe-detective-203948971.html?src=rss