European astronomers on Tuesday released the first images from the newly launched Euclid space telescope, which aims to unlock the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy – hidden forces thought to make up 95% of the universe.
The European Space Agency, which is leading the six-year mission with NASA as a partner, said the images were the sharpest of their kind and demonstrated the telescope’s ability to monitor billions of galaxies up to 10 billion light-years away.
The images spanned four regions of the relatively nearby universe, including 1,000 galaxies belonging to the massive Perseus cluster, just 240 million light-years away, and more than 100,000 galaxies sprawling in the background, ESA said.
Scientists believe that huge, seemingly organized structures like Perseus could only have formed if dark matter existed.
“We think we only understand 5% of the universe: that is the matter we can see,” ESA science director Carole Mundell told Reuters.
“We call the rest of the universe dark because it does not produce light in the normal electromagnetic spectrum. But we know its effect because we see the effect on visible matter.”
Telltale signs of the hidden power emanating from dark matter include galaxies rotating faster than scientists would expect based on the amount of visible matter that can be detected.
Its influence is also involved in pulling together some of the most massive structures in the universe, such as galaxy clusters, Mundell said in an interview.
Dark energy is even more mysterious.
Its hypothetical existence was only proven in the 1990s through the study of exploding stars, called supernovas, which led to a Nobel Prize in 2011 shared by three U.S.-born scientists.
Thanks in part to observations from the earlier Hubble Space Telescope, they concluded that not only was the universe expanding, but that the pace of expansion was accelerating – a stunning discovery attributed to the new concept of dark energy.
3D COSMIC MAP
After initial startup and technical teething problems, including stray light and guidance problems, Euclid will now begin assembling a 3D map covering about a third of the sky to detect tiny variations attributable to the dark universe.
Through new insights into dark energy and matter, scientists hope to better understand the formation and distribution of galaxies in the universe’s so-called cosmic web.
“The purpose of the Euclid mission is actually to begin exploring this dark sector of the universe in a way that we cannot currently achieve with current ground and space missions,” said Mundell, a leader Academic and former British Science Commissioner.
“The Perseus Cluster is really a typical example of this huge mass conglomerate. We think there is a lot of dark matter in this cluster that holds these galaxies together,” she added.
The release of the images in Darmstadt coincided with the second of two days of European space talks in Spain, marked by Europe’s continued dependence on foreign launch vehicles.
The Euclid spacecraft was supposed to be launched on Russia’s Soyuz rocket, but those plans were scrapped as relations collapsed after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine last year.
Because Europe’s own Ariane 6 rocket was delayed, Euclid was launched from Florida in July on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
Although the mission is designed to last six years, ESA hopes Euclid will have another six months of fuel to keep it about 1.5 million km (930,000 miles) from Earth at “Lagrange Point Two,” or L2. a gravitational position – to maintain stability in the solar orbit, which is also home to NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.
Other images released by ESA included an irregular galaxy thought to resemble building blocks of the universe and a spiral formation known as a “Hidden Galaxy”: a similarity to our home galaxy that is usually found in the Milky Way Light and dust are obscured.
“You’ll also see a lot of background galaxies there, which is phenomenal. I think I spotted a new one there last night,” Mundell told Reuters.
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