The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Euclid space telescope has released its first test images. These pictures of sparkling stars and galaxies show that the new space telescope is beginning its daunting task of mapping a huge portion of the sky.
Euclid launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida on 1 July and took about a month to reach its final orbit about four times as far from Earth as the moon. While it sailed to its destination, researchers on Earth were hard at work turning on and calibrating its two cameras.
The telescope’s first images show that both cameras are working as expected, peering into the universe in both visible and infrared light. These images show an area of the sky about one-quarter the area of the full moon, but over the course of its six-year mission Euclid is expected to observe an area about 300,000 times larger, covering about a third of the entire sky.
“We see just a few galaxies here, produced with minimum system tuning,” said Giuseppe Racca, Euclid’s project manager at ESA, in a statement. “The fully calibrated Euclid will ultimately observe billions of galaxies to create the biggest ever 3D map of the sky.”
Once the instruments are fully calibrated, which is expected to take a few months, Euclid will begin mapping. The ultimate goal is to figure out the distribution of matter in the universe, measuring how it clumps and moves, which will give scientists unprecedented insights into the nature of dark matter and dark energy.
“These first engineering images give a tantalising glimpse of the remarkable data we can expect from Euclid,” said Carole Mundell, ESA’s director of science, in a statement. If all continues to go well, measurements of the most mysterious components of the universe should start pouring in soon.