$1.2 billion spacecraft sets off to probe dark energy and dark matter next month

Dark energy and dark matter make up 95% of the universe, and Euclid could finally uncover their mystery.
Chris Young
An artist's impression of the Euclid spacecraft.
An artist's impression of the Euclid spacecraft.


The European Space Agency's (ESA's) $1 billion Euclid spacecraft is scheduled to launch next month aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

The spacecraft was designed to uncover the secrets of the "dark universe." If successful, it could be a "game-changer" for the global astronomical community, Prof Adam Amara, who thought up the concept behind the spacecraft, told the BBC in an interview.

Euclid will shed new light on the "dark universe"

18 years ago, Prof Amara, who works as director of the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation at the University of Portsmouth, turned down a prestigious role at Princeton University to work on Euclid.

Now, he is preparing to fly to Florida, where the Euclid spacecraft will be launched aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral.

The spacecraft will capture high-resolution images of the sky from Lagrange Point 1, a stable orbital location between the Earth and the Sun. Its goal is to observe both images far away from the distant past of the cosmos as well as closer images of the more recent universe. By doing so, it will shed light on how the universe has evolved over the past 10 billion years.

By mapping the evolution of vast swathes of the sky, the hope is that Euclid will allow astronomers to better understand the role dark energy and dark matter have played. The ultimate goal, meanwhile, would be to determine what these mysterious dark forces really are.

The "dark universe" makes up the vast majority of the cosmos: it is composed of roughly 27 percent dark matter and about 68 percent dark energy. And yet, we don't fully understand what these forces are composed of — they have only been observed indirectly via the gravitational effect they have throughout the universe.

From 'career suicide' to watching Euclid take to the skies

Prof Amara has a lot riding on the mission and he explained that he will likely be in tears next month whether the launch is successful or not.

"When you turn down a prestigious position... to work on an idea that probably is not going to fly, they think you are nuts," Prof Amara told the BBC. "Serious people would say that's committing career suicide, why would you do that?"

Impressively, though, his idea earned £1 billion ($1.2 bn approx.) in investment from ESA, and it is on the verge of flying into space. If the mission goes as planned, it will provide data that has never been available before and could vastly alter our perception of the universe.

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