First full-colour pictures of the Universe reveal stunning details of previously unseen galaxies that could unlock life's secrets

Incredible first full-colour images of the universe captured and beamed back to earth by the space telescope Euclid.

The European Space Agency released the five glittering pictures which show galaxies and stars near and far, helping to uncover some of the universe’s hidden secrets.

The £850m (€1bn) European Space Agency (ESA) mission to which the UK has contributed £37 million towards will focus on dark matter and dark energy, which together make up 95% of the universe but their natures are almost entirely mysterious.

The Perseus Cluster is one of the most massive structures in the Universe

Spiral galaxy IC 342 (The "Hidden Galaxy") located on the far side of the Milky Way

Over the next six years, Euclid will survey a third of the heavens to get some clues about these unknown "influencers" which appear to control the shape and expansion of everything that's out there.

Neither dark matter nor dark energy are directly detectable. Our only hope of gaining some understanding is to trace their subtle signals in the things we can see.

One of the images released is of the Perseus cluster of galaxies. This single picture contains 1,000 galaxies belonging to the cluster but beyond this, more than 100,000 additional galaxies are buried further away in the background.

Many of these faint galaxies were previously unseen, and some of them are so far that their light has taken 10 billion years to reach us.

NGC 6397 is located 7,800 light-years from Earth and it what's termed a globular cluster

The view of irregular galaxy NGC 6822 (ESA/Euclid Consortium/Nasa)

Another image captures the spiral galaxy IC 342, nicknamed the Hidden Galaxy, because it is difficult to observe as it lies behind the busy disc of our Milky Way which means dust, gas and stars obscure our view.

Another of the newly released images is of the globular cluster NGC 6397 – the second-closest globular cluster to Earth, located about 7,800 light-years away.

Globular clusters are collections of hundreds of thousands of stars held together by gravity.

These faint stars tell us about the history of the Milky Way and where dark matter is located.

Horsehead Nebula (Barnard 33) is part of the constellation Orion and 1,300 light-years from Earth

To create a 3D map of the universe, Euclid will observe the light from galaxies out to 10 billion light-years.

The first irregular dwarf galaxy that Euclid observed is called NGC 6822 and is located just 1.6 million light-years from Earth.

The fifth image shows a panoramic and detailed view of the Horsehead Nebula, also known as Barnard 33 and part of the constellation Orion.

Scientists hope to find many dim and previously unseen Jupiter-mass planets in their celestial infancy, as well as young brown dwarfs and baby stars, in this new observation.

Professor Carole Mundell, ESA director of science, said: “Dark matter pulls galaxies together and causes them to spin more rapidly than visible matter alone can account for; dark energy is driving the accelerated expansion of the universe.

“Euclid will for the first time allow cosmologists to study these competing dark mysteries together.

Euclid telescope being secured on SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket (PA)

Euclid was launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida on July 1.

Named after the ancient Greek mathematician Euclid, the two-tonne probe made its way towards an area in space known as the second Lagrange point, where the gravitational forces of Earth and the sun are roughly equal – creating a stable location for the spacecraft.

Dr Caroline Harper, head of space science at the UK Space Agency, said: “These first colour images showcase Euclid’s enormous potential, giving us incredibly sharp images of galaxies and stars, and helping us understand more about the impacts of dark matter and dark energy on the universe."

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement