A European telescope designed to create the ‘biggest ever 3D map of the sky’ has beamed back its first test images – and they don’t disappoint.
Euclid, which launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida on July 1, has been launched by the European Space Agency to explore the composition and evolution of the dark universe. Over the next seven years it will observe billions of galaxies and map more than a third of the sky.
The telescope is fitted with two instruments, the VISible instruments (VIS) designed to take ‘super sharp images of billions of galaxies to measure their shapes’ and the Near-Infrared Spectrometer and Photometer (NISP), which captures the universe in infrared.
In the first NIPS image, twinkling stars and a swirling galaxy stand out from the brilliant cosmological backdrop of space.
The NISP can also measure the amount of light galaxies emit at various wavelengths. Light has passed through a ‘grism’ before reaching the detector, creating a mesmerising pattern of long red flashes. Every vertical streak is a star or a galaxy, and the properties of the streak help identify what each object is made of, and how far away it is.
‘We’ve seen simulated images, we’ve seen laboratory test images – it’s still hard for me to grasp these images are now the real universe,’ said NISP instrument scientist Knud Jahnke. ‘So detailed, just amazing.’
Mark Cropper, from University College London which led the development of VIS, added: ‘I’m thrilled by the beauty of these images and the abundance of information contained within them.
‘I’m so proud of what the VIS team has achieved and grateful to all of those who have enabled this capability. VIS images will be available for all to use, whether for scientific or other purposes. They will belong to everybody.’
The telescope, which blasted off on board a SpaceX Falcon 9, is orbiting the Sun from Lagrange point 2, or L2, almost a million miles from Earth.
Lagrange points, as Nasa states, are ‘positions in space where objects sent there tend to stay put’ due gravitational forces. L2 is on the opposite side of the Earth to the Sun, meaning it is always pointing out into deep space – the same location as the James Webb Space Telescope.
Dr Caroline Harper, head of space science at the UK Space Agency, said: ‘It’s fantastic to see these early test images returned from Euclid, demonstrating that it’s on track in its mission to map the dark universe, and that the UK-built visible imager has successfully survived the journey into space.
‘The UK Space Agency’s £37 million funding for the mission goes back to 2010 and supports critical work by the universities of Edinburgh, Cambridge, Oxford, Portsmouth, Durham, University College London and the Open University.
‘These contributions will enable Euclid to bring us new insights into both dark matter and dark energy, helping the global space community build a clearer picture of the origin and evolution of the Universe and the way it is expanding.’
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