The first images from the ‘dark universe’ mission have been transmitted by the Euclid telescope.
The Euclid telescope has transmitted its initial images, as part of a mission to reveal more about the mysterious “dark universe”.
The European Space Agency (Esa) has allocated €1 billion (£850m) towards a mission to study dark matter and dark energy, which constitute 95% of the universe but are still largely unknown. The initial images reveal stunning views of the Perseus galaxy cluster and Horsehead nebula, providing a glimpse into the telescope’s exceptional capability to capture precise images across a vast region of outer space.
In the end, the telescope’s goal is to produce the most extensive 3D map of the cosmos ever seen. This will enable astronomers to deduce the overall arrangement of dark matter and uncover the effects of dark energy in the ancient universe. Dark matter is present throughout the universe and serves as a binding force for galaxies, while dark energy is a mysterious force believed to be causing the universe to expand at an accelerating rate.
Prof Carole Mundell, the director of science at Esa, stated that the mission, launched in July, will expand our scientific understanding into unexplored areas “beyond Einstein”.
“As humans, we’ve managed to figure out how 5% of the universe works and we’ve also figured out that there’s another 95% that remains unknown to us,” she said. “We can’t travel out to the edge of the universe to investigate, but we’re bringing those images back to Earth and studying them on computers – and for only €1.4bn. I think it’s magical.”
In the upcoming six years, Euclid plans to study approximately 8 billion galaxies by utilizing both infrared and visible light in 36% of the night sky. In certain instances, the light from these faraway objects will encounter dark matter during its travels towards Earth. This interaction will cause the light’s path to bend due to the gravitational pull, resulting in a distorted appearance of the galaxies in the end image.
According to Professor Mark Cropper from University College London, who was in charge of designing Euclid’s optical camera, a round galaxy in the background could potentially transform into a banana shape. By studying the patterns of distortion, astronomers could create a map of how dark matter is distributed throughout the night sky and throughout the evolution of the universe. Cropper compared this process to making toast in a toast rack, where you first examine the distortion of nearby galaxies to determine the dark matter in the initial slice of toast. Then, you continue to analyze further slices, moving further and further back in the universe and in time.
The objective of the mission may not provide a definitive answer to the nature of dark matter, but it will at least uncover its location and behavior.
Scientists will monitor the movement of galaxies in order to create a detailed understanding of the opposing forces of gravity, responsible for the clustering of galaxies, and dark energy, which is causing the rapid expansion of space. This will provide a new perspective on how dark energy influenced the development of the universe in its early stages.
According to Mundell, dark matter is responsible for the gravitational pull that brings galaxies closer together and increases their rotation speed beyond what can be explained by visible matter alone. On the other hand, dark energy is what is driving the universe’s accelerated expansion. The Euclid project will provide cosmologists with the opportunity to study these two enigmatic forces simultaneously for the first time.
René Laureijs, the Esa’s Euclid project scientist, added: “We have never seen astronomical images like this before, containing so much detail. 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. Now we are ready to observe billions of galaxies, and study their evolution over cosmic time.”