Europe’s dark matter and energy telescope blasts towards meeting point with JWST and Gaia

The European Space Agency’s Euclid space telescope has launched out of Florida, marking the start of its six-year quest to explore the substance of the universe.

Euclid was launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with its first signal picked up by the New Norcia ground station north of Perth on Sunday morning.

The space telescope will be sent to the Sun-Earth Lagrange point 2 – L2 – about 1.5 million kilometres beyond our planet, where it will be guarded from the Sun’s light by the Earth and its own shield. This provides the telescope with a clear view of surrounding space.

At L2, it will sit with other space telescopes like Gaia and James Webb in a synchronised orbit with the Earth around the Sun.

Euclid will use its 1.2m reflecting telescope to create a three-dimensional map of the universe’s evolution, understand how dark energy speeds up its expansion and how dark matter influences the structure of the cosmos.

As the European Space Agency says: “scientists remain unsure about what dark energy and dark matter actually are”.

“If we want to understand the Universe we live in, we need to uncover the nature of dark matter and dark energy and understand the role they played in shaping our cosmos,” says ESA director of science Carole Mundell.

“To address these fundamental questions, Euclid will deliver the most detailed map of the extra-galactic sky. This inestimable wealth of data will also enable the scientific community to investigate many other aspects of astronomy, for many years to come.”

As well as the reflecting telescope, Euclid contains a visible wavelength camera (called VIS) and a Near-Infrared Spectrometer and Photometer (NISP).

VIS will take massive images of one billion galaxies over the next six years, which will be used to measure the size and composition of these structures, while NISP will measure light emitted from each galaxy to calculate how far away they are.

Euclid is due to arrive at L2 in four weeks’ time where it will undergo final tests before starting the space survey in three months.

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