ESA prepares Euclid spacecraft to probe dark energy and dark matter

ESA's Euclid project manager said it is a "cosmic embarrassment" that we do not know more about these mysterious forces.
Chris Young
An artist's impression of Euclid.
An artist's impression of Euclid.

ESA / C. Carreau 

The European Space Agency (ESA) will launch its Euclid space observatory in the coming months to investigate the mysterious cosmic phenomena known as dark matter and dark energy.

It will be the first space mission in history to exclusively search for the mysterious forces, which make up 95 percent of the universe.

ESA plans to shed new light on dark energy and dark matter

ESA's Euclid mission will chart a 3D map of the universe, including a third of the night sky and roughly two billion galaxies. The map will stretch to about 10 billion light-years from Earth, offering new insight into the evolution of the 13.8-billion-year-old universe — and, hopefully, the role played by dark energy and dark matter.

The 1.4-billion-euro ($1.5 billion) Euclid mission is expected to last until 2029, though the task could be extended beyond that point. The observatory, named after the ancient Greek founder of the field of geometry, will aim to determine the mass of dark matter by first determining the mass of visible matter and subtracting that from its observations.

In a press statement, Euclid project manager Giuseppe Racca described that we know virtually nothing about dark energy and matter as a "cosmic embarrassment". With help from NASA and SpaceX, ESA will aim to rectify that wrong. "By subtracting the visible matter, we can calculate the presence of the dark matter, which is in between," Racca explained.

When will ESA's Euclid space observatory launch?

The Euclid space observatory is a two-ton spacecraft measuring 15 feet (4.7 meters) tall and 11 feet (3.5 meters) wide. Last week, it was unveiled to the media in a clean room in the southeastern French city of Cannes. To carry out its observations, Euclid will utilize a 4-foot (1.2-meter) diameter telescope and its Near Infrared Spectrometer and Photometer (NISP), which can split infrared wavelengths that are not visible to the human eye.

The launch of Euclid will take place from Cape Canaveral in the United States, and launch is expected between July 1 and July 30 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

Euclid will be deployed to Lagrange Point 2, a stable orbital point roughly 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, where the gravitational effect of Earth and the Sun is balanced out. Last year, NASA's James Webb Space Telescope was deployed in the same region of space.

Euclid's science operations are expected to start in October. However, Racca pointed out that the space observatory will collect an "unprecedented amount of data," meaning it will likely take months or even years for scientists to glean discoveries from the wealth of new information.

Source: Press Statement

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