Euclid telescope sends back largest images of universe ever taken from space

Europe’s Euclid telescope has sent back the largest images of the universe ever taken from space in its quest to unravel the secrets of the cosmos.

The five images, released by the European Space Agency (ESA), capture vast new areas of the sky in unprecedented detail, offering an exciting glimpse into the distant cosmic past.

Dr Michelle Collins, of the University of Surrey – who helped the Euclid team identify possible new galaxies in the images, said: “These stunning first images are just the tip of the iceberg.”

She added: “This telescope can reveal millions of new objects in a single day.

“We’re only just beginning to realise its potential.”

The new images feature two galaxy clusters known as Abell 2764 and Abell 2390, a group of galaxies called the Dorado, a spiral galaxy dubbed NGC 6744, and a vibrant stellar nursery known as Messier 78.

Euclid's new image of Abell 2390
Euclid’s new image of Abell 2390 – a galaxy cluster 2.7 billion light years away in the constellation of Pegasus (ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/Nasa)

Messier 78 is the nearest location – just 1,300 light years away from Earth, while Abell 2390 is the furthest at 2.7 billion light years away in the constellation of Pegasus.

The hope is that data from Euclid will shed light on two of the universe’s greatest mysteries: dark energy and dark matter.

Dark matter is made up of particles that do not absorb, reflect, or emit light while dark energy is believed to be pushing galaxies apart, causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate.

Caroline Harper, head of space science at the UK Space Agency, said: “A key part of our purpose as a space agency is to understand more about the universe, what it’s made of and how it works.

“There is no better example of this than the Euclid mission – we know that most of universe is made up of invisible dark matter and dark energy, but we don’t really understand what it is, or how it affects the way the universe is evolving.”

Astronomers said the images taken by Euclid are at least four times sharper than those captured using ground-based telescopes.

Euclid’s new image of the Dorado group of galaxies
Euclid’s new image of the Dorado group of galaxies, 62 million light years away in the constellation of Dorado (ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/Nasa)

They were created by combining data from Euclid’s two instruments: VIS, a visible light camera, and the Near Infrared Spectrometer and Photometer (NISP), which captures light from the infrared spectrum.

Professor Mark Cropper, from the Mullard Space Science Laboratory at UCL, who led on designing and developing the VIS, said: “To achieve its core aim of better understanding dark energy and dark matter, Euclid’s measurements need to be exquisitely precise.

“This requires a camera that is incredibly stable, incredibly well understood, with conditions inside it needing to be controlled very carefully.

“The VIS camera we developed will not only contribute beautiful images, but help us answer fundamental questions about the role of dark energy and dark matter in the evolution of the universe.”

The new findings, based on only 24 hours of observations, have been described in a series of 10 papers published on the online portal arXiv.

The research focuses on 17 astronomical objects, from nearby clouds of gas and dust to distant clusters of galaxies.

Stephen Serjeant, professor of astronomy at the Open University, said: “At the OU we are using the beautiful image quality of these very wide images to search for warps in space and time.

Euclid’s new image of spiral galaxy NGC 6744
Euclid’s new image of spiral galaxy NGC 6744, which is 30 million light years away (ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/Nasa)

“This is where a distant galaxy is being seen through the warped space around a foreground one.

“It’s one of the few ways we have to directly see the existence of dark matter.”

Dr Rebecca Bowler, Ernest Rutherford Fellow at the University of Manchester, added: “What is amazing is that these images cover an area of less than 1% of the full deep observations, showing that we expect to detect thousands of early galaxies in the next few years with Euclid, which will be revolutionary in understanding how and when galaxies formed after the Big Bang.”

In total, Euclid has so far produced more than 11 million objects in visible light and five million more in infrared light.

One of the aims of the mission, which launched in July 2023, is to create a 3D map of the universe by observing two billion galaxies which will help scientists understand its cosmic history.

Euclid’s new view of galaxy cluster Abell 2764,
Euclid’s new view of galaxy cluster Abell 2764, which lies around one billion light years away in the direction of the Phoenix constellation (ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/Nasa)

Dr Valeria Pettorino, Euclid project scientist at the ESA, said: “Euclid is a unique, ground-breaking mission, and these are the first datasets to be made public – it’s an important milestone.

“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.”