Spectacular images from the Euclid space telescope, including the Horsehead Nebula and a hidden galaxy, have been released for the first time.
There are five images, described by Euclid scientist Jean-Charles Cuillandre, as “a range of objects from the galactic zoo in terms of diversity, colours and shapes”.
Some of the locations have been seen before but Euclid provides better quality “razor-sharp astronomical images across such a large patch of the sky, and looking so far into the distant universe,” the European Space Agency (ESA) said.
The images spanned four areas of the relatively nearby universe, including 1,000 galaxies belonging to the massive Perseus cluster, about 240 million light-years away, and more than 100,000 galaxies spread out in the background, the ESA said.
Scientists believe vast, seemingly organised structures such as Perseus could only have formed if dark matter exists.
“We think we understand only 5 per cent of the universe: that's the matter that we can see,” ESA's science director Carole Mundell said.
The telescope snapped pictures of a relatively close spiral galaxy that is a ringer for our own Milky Way.
Euclid also took fresh photos of the Horsehead Nebula in the constellation Orion, a dramatic nursery of baby stars made famous by Hubble.
The Horsehead Nebula – also known as Barnard 33 – is 1,375 light-years away. The horse's head is formed from clouds in front of ultraviolet radiation.
Scientists hope that by scouring through Euclid's observations of the nebula, they will find previously unseen Jupiter-sized planets, as well as stars still in their infancy.
There is also an image of spiral galaxy IC 342, nicknamed the “hidden galaxy”, because it can be difficult to spot behind the disc of our own Milky Way.
It is relatively near, in galactic terms at least, at 11 million light-years from Earth.
Euclid's infrared vision was able to peer through the dust to spot never-before-seen globular clusters, ESA said.
Launched in July, Euclid orbits the sun at about 1.6km from Earth. The telescope is named after the mathematician of ancient Greece.