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Explained: How Euclid space mission will explore dark energy and matter

The first ever space mission to explore dark energy and dark matter will launch on 1 July

An artist's impression of the Euclid spacecraft, released by the European Space Agency (ESA).
An artist's impression of the Euclid spacecraft, released by the European Space Agency (ESA). (Photo by Handout / EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY / AFP)

Euclid, a space telescope by the European Space Agency (ESA), will investigate the cosmic mysteries of dark matter and dark energy. The Euclid mission to explore the “dark” side of the universe is set to launch on 1 July from Cape Canaveral in Florida on a Falcon 9 rocket from the Elon Musk-led company SpaceX. The mission is named after the ancient Greek mathematician Euclid.

For a long time, dark matter and energy have made been the base of many speculations and theories. Earlier this year, in February, scientists theorised that black holes could be a source of dark energy, driving the expansion of the universe. Currently, one of the things that scientists are confident about is that roughly 68% of the universe is dark energy, and 27% is dark matter, according to Nasa’s website.

Also read: James Webb observations point to a shorter cosmic dark age

Euclid, which is a new space telescope, will hope to answer one of the pertinent questions: why is the universe’s expansion speeding up? Scientists call this acceleration in expansion dark energy.

The Euclid mission aims to create a 3D map of the universe, with the third dimension representing time, according to the ESA website. As the distance from a galaxy increases, the more time it takes for it to reach Earth. “By observing billions of galaxies out to a distance of 10 billion light-years, scientists will be able to chart the position and velocity of galaxies over immense distances and through most of cosmic history, and trace the way the Universe has expanded during that time,” the mission statement on the website explains. Euclid’s advanced optics also aim to shed light on little distortions in the appearance of galaxies.

Initially, the mission was supposed to be launched using Russia’s Soyuz rocket which was pulled by the nation in response to sanctions over the war in Ukraine. ESA had no other option than turning to rival firm SpaceX to launch the mission, an AFP report explains.

After a month through space, Euclid will join the James Webb Space Telescope at a stable hovering spot around 1.5 million kilometres from Earth called the second Lagrangian Point. Following this, it will create the largest-ever map of the universe, including two billion galaxies across more than a third of the sky, the AFP report adds. The map will help scientists better investigate some of the 95% of the universe that remains unknown to us so far.

Euclid, which is 4.7 metres (15 feet) tall and 3.5 metres (11 feet) wide, will use two scientific instruments to create the map. Its visible light camera helps in measuring the shape of galaxies, and its near-infrared spectrometer and photometer will enable it to record their distance.

Interestingly, the light from billions of light years away is bound to be believed to be distorted by the mass of visible and dark matter along the way – a phenomenon known as weak gravitational lensing, the AFP report explains. By excluding visible matter, dark matter can be calculated, which will provide new clues.

By May 2027, Nasa’s Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope will join Euclid in the mission. “Twenty-five years after its discovery, the universe’s accelerated expansion remains one of the most pressing mysteries in astrophysics,” Jason Rhodes, a senior research scientist at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California said in a press statement by the space agency. 

The new telescopes will examine dark energy with more accuracy and open doors to a new era of exploration, Rhodes added.

Also read: Explained: All you need to know about the Deep Space Food Challenge

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