See 5 dazzling new images from Euclid, the ‘dark universe detective’

ESA's space telescope shows off colliding galaxies, stellar nurseries, and more in its search to understand dark matter and energy.
Laura Baisas Avatar
a pink and red galaxy (left). an illustration of the cylindrical euclid space telescope (right)
Messier 78 (left) shines in new images taken by the Euclid space telescope (right) ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/NASA, image processing by J.-C. Cuillandre (CEA Paris-Saclay), G. Anselm

On Thursday, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Euclid space mission released five new views of our universe. These new images show an array of far-flung cosmic objects in much closer detail than we have previously seen. 

“The images obtained by Euclid are at least four times sharper than those we can take from ground-based telescopes,” wrote the ESA in a press release. “They cover large patches of sky at unrivaled depth, looking far into the distant universe using both visible and infrared light.”

Astronomers have called Euclid a “dark universe” detective, as its primary mission is to investigate the universe’s dark energy and dark matter. These are two of the universe’s most mysterious elements and understanding them is important. Dark matter and energy are believed to be a key component of the cosmos and it may help us understand some of the more unexplained motions of stars in the universe. 

These early findings highlight Euclid’s ability to search star-forming regions of the universe, search for free-floating planets, study the outer regions of star clusters in close detail, and map various star populations to learn more about how galaxies have evolved over time. Here are the five new images. 

Abel 2390

Galaxy cluster Abell 2390 lies in the constellation Pegasus. CREDIT: ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/NASA, image processing by J.-C. Cuillandre (CEA Paris-Saclay), G. Anselmi.

This new image of galaxy cluster Abell 2390 shows over 50,000 galaxies all bunched up together. It shows a display of gravitational lensing—the giant curved arcs across the sky. These lenses are particularly intriguing to scientists studying dark matter. They represent lights from far off galaxies that have been warped by the effects of dark matter that is positioned between the galaxies themselves and the Euclid telescope. 

[Related: Euclid space telescope begins its search through billions of galaxies for dark matter and energy.]

It also shows the light permating the cluster from intracluster light. These are stars that have been ripped away from their parent galaxies and now sit in intergalactic space. According to the ESA, spotting intracluster light is one of Euclid’s specialties and studying these types of stars may allow astronomers to see where dark matter lies. 

Messier 78

Stellar nursery Messier 78 is the central and brightest part of a star forming region. CREDIT: ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/NASA, image processing by J.-C. Cuillandre (CEA Paris-Saclay), G. Anselmi.

Messier 78 is a vibrant star nursery about 1,300 light years away from Earth. It is enveloped in interstellar dust that forms stars–shown in the bright reds and pinks. It has been imaged before, but Euclid’s infrared camera was able to see hidden regions of star formation for the first time. It mapped out some of the complex filaments of gas and dust, uncovering some newly formed stars and planets. The image reveals over 300,000 new celestial objects. 

The scientists using the data collected for this image are studying the ratio of stars and smaller (sub-stellar) objects to better understand how star populations form and evolve over time. 

NGC 6744

NGC 6744 is one of the largest spiral galaxies beyond our local patch of space. CREDIT: ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/NASA, image processing by J.-C. Cuillandre (CEA Paris-Saclay), G. Anselmi.

NGC 6744 is considered an archetype of the kind of galaxy that is currently forming most of the stars. It’s about 30 million light years away and is considered a twin to our Milky Way galaxy and is one of the largest spiral galaxies that is relatively close to us Earth. The feather-like lanes are dust emerging from the spinning galaxy’s arms. These arms are important to star formation because they churn up and condense dust and gas, which triggers star formation along the length of the arms.

Scientists using the data from this image are studying how star populations are distributed throughout galaxies and unravel the physics behind the structure of spiral galaxies.

Abell 2764 (and bright star)

Abell 2764 is roughly 1 billion light-years away from Earth towards the  Phoenix constellation. CREDIT: ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/NASA, image processing by J.-C. Cuillandre (CEA Paris-Saclay), G. Anselmi.

Galaxy cluster Abell 2764 (top right of the image) is built up of hundreds of galaxies within a large halo of dark matter. Euclid captured multiple objects, including some of the background galaxies, more distant clusters, and interacting galaxies that are chucking streams and shells of stars out into the universe. Euclid’s wide field-of-view allowed astronomers to see the radius of the cluster as well as these more far-flung objects. Abell 2764 is about 1 billion light years away from Earth in a more dense region of space. The data for this image is helping scientists to explore galaxies in the distant cosmic dark ages.

[Related: Euclid telescope spies shimmering stars and galaxies in its first look at the ‘dark’ universe.]

A very bright star designated as V*BP-Phoenicis is in the foreground of the new image. This brilliant stellar object actually lies within our own galaxy and is nearly bright enough to be seen with the unaided human eye in the Southern Hemisphere. When viewed through a telescope, its light is scattered outwards, creating a diffuse circular halo. According to the ESA, Euclid was designed to make this scatter as small as possible. The result is that V*BP-Phoenicis causes as little disturbance as possible.

Dorado Group

The Dorado Group of galaxies is one of the richest galaxy groups in the Southern Hemisphere. CREDIT: ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/NASA, image processing by J.-C. Cuillandre (CEA Paris-Saclay), G. Anselmi.

Euclid shows off the Dorado Group–a conglomeration of galaxies about 62 million light-years away. The image shows two galaxies colliding, with tidal tails and shells visible due to all of these stellar interactions. Dorado is younger than many other galaxy clusters, so several of the galaxies that make up the group are still forming stars. Some of the other galaxies within Dorado show signs of recent mergers, including the two that are colliding in this image. 

Scientists are using this data to study how galaxies evolve, so that they can improve models of cosmic history and understand how galaxies form within halos of dark matter. 

Euclid’s ongoing mission

The telescope launched on July 1, 2023. It is slated to be about six years, with the possibility of being extended. Euclid will continue observing billions of galaxies and travel as far away as 10 billion light-years, across more than a third of the sky.

“The beauty of Euclid is that it covers large regions of the sky in great detail and depth, and can capture a wide range of different objects all in the same image–from faint to bright, from distant to nearby, from the most massive of galaxy clusters to small planets,” ESA Director of Science Carole Mundell said in a statement. “We get both a very detailed and very wide view all at once. This amazing versatility has resulted in numerous new science results that, when combined with the results from Euclid’s surveying over the coming years, will significantly alter our understanding of the universe.”