The Euclid space telescope, which was launched on July 1 with the aim of shedding light on dark matter and dark energy, has successfully reached its intended orbit. Recently, its European operators shared initial test images captured during the commissioning phase, where its instruments were calibrated. Despite these images not fully showcasing its capabilities, the European Space Agency (ESA) is confident that the telescope will live up to its significant mission.
Giuseppe Racca, Euclid's project manager, expressed excitement and emotion over seeing these initial images after more than a decade of development. Having traveled around one million miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth after its launch in Florida, the satellite is now in position to create the most extensive map of the universe ever recorded. This map will cover over a third of the sky and include up to two billion galaxies.
By capturing light that has journeyed for a staggering 10 billion years to reach the vicinity of Earth, this map will provide a fresh perspective on the history of the universe, which dates back 13.8 billion years.
Equipped with a visible light camera, the telescope will have the ability to gauge the shapes of galaxies. Furthermore, its near-infrared spectrometer and photometer, collaboratively developed with NASA, will enable precise measurements of the galaxies' distances from us.
Upon activating the instruments, researchers were taken aback by an “unexpected pattern of light interference” in the images, as reported by the ESA.
Further investigation led scientists to conclude that “certain angles” allowed sunlight to infiltrate the spacecraft through a minute gap, impacting the observations. Adjusting Euclid's orientation will mitigate this issue and ensure its imaging capabilities can be fully harnessed for its mission.
The objective is to harness the collected data to confront a cosmic enigma, as previously highlighted by Racca: the fact that 95 percent of the universe remains an enigma to humanity.
Approximately 70 percent of the universe is presumed to consist of dark energy, an enigmatic force responsible for the universe's accelerated expansion.
Around 25 percent is believed to comprise dark matter, hypothesized to exert gravitational influence, holding the universe together and constituting around 80 percent of its mass.
The commencement of the telescope's scientific operations is anticipated in October.