Euclid’s first photos arrive, despite a scare

Europe’s Euclid Space Telescope has sent back its first photos, showing an array of stars and galaxies, after arriving on the far side of the Earth in late July.

The €1.4 billion (A$2.3bn) telescope recently arrived at Lagrange point 2 (L2) – a fixed gravitational position in Earth’s shadow about 1.5 million kilometres away – at the end of July, where it sits alongside the Gaia and James Webb space telescopes.

The point allows these massive lenses to have clear vision of space without the Sun’s light obscuring their view. Once at L2, Euclid’s 2 onboard imagers fired up and captured their first snaps of the universe.

The VISible instrument (VIS) captures high resolution images of space in visible light, and its first test images show innumerable dots of light, including large galaxies and star clusters.

The first vis test image shows spiral and elliptical galaxies, nearby and distant stars, star clusters.
The first VIS test image shows spiral and elliptical galaxies, nearby and distant stars, star clusters. Credit: ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/NASA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

The Near-Infrared Spectrometer and Photometer (NISP) will use infrared to measure the amount of light emitted by galaxies. The images that will be captured by the NISP will help scientists determine how far each of these stars and galaxies is from the Earth.

This is a raw image taken using nisp’s ‘y’ filter. Because it is largely unprocessed, some unwanted artefacts remain – for example the cosmic rays that shoot straight across. The euclid consortium will ultimately turn the longer-exposed survey observations into science-ready images that are artefact-free, more detailed, and razor sharp.
The image on the left shows the full NISP field of view, with the zoom-in on the right (4% of NISP’s full field of view) demonstrating the extraordinary level of detail that NISP is already achieving. Credit: ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/NASA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

When both VIS and NISP images are put together, Euclid’s team will be able to create a 3D map of the universe that plots where these celestial objects are, and how they shift over time.

Euclid ready to go despite early scare

While Euclid’s first images give a taste of what’s to come from the European Space Agency (ESA)’s latest venture into the cosmos, it was not without issue.

When the telescope started booting up, ESA observers were concerned by the appearance of light markings on the first images relayed to Earth.

This, it confirmed, was due to sunlight filtering into the telescope, “probably through a tiny gap”.

A correction to Euclid’s position was able to offset this issue. It means that while the ESA is confident Euclid will be fine to proceed with its mapping mission, particular orientations for the telescope may not be possible.

Euclid will commence full operations near the end of 2023, with a series of tests to be performed over the coming months.

ESA expects Euclid to map billions of galaxies over the course of its 6-year mission.

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