The Euclid Space Telescope: Unraveling the Secrets of the Universe

The Euclid Space Telescope: Unraveling the Secrets of the Universe

Europe’s Euclid space telescope is about to embark on an extraordinary mission. On Saturday, this groundbreaking project will take off from Cape Canaveral in Florida, launching into space on a Falcon 9 rocket provided by SpaceX. This launch is particularly significant as it comes after the European Space Agency (ESA) had to seek the help of billionaire Elon Musk’s rival company due to the withdrawal of Russia’s Soyuz rockets.

The Quest to Understand the Universe

Euclid’s primary objective is to construct the most comprehensive map of the Universe ever created. This map will cover more than a third of the sky and include up to two billion galaxies. By capturing light that has traveled for billions of years, Euclid aims to provide new insights into the history of the Universe. However, as Giuseppe Racca, the project manager of Euclid, acknowledges, humanity finds itself faced with a perplexing challenge – 95 percent of the Universe remains unknown.

The Enigmatic Dark Energy and Dark Matter

Among the mysteries Euclid seeks to unravel are dark energy and dark matter. Scientists estimate that approximately 70 percent of the Universe is composed of dark energy, an unidentified force driving its accelerated expansion. Dark matter, on the other hand, constitutes roughly 25 percent of the Universe and is believed to bind galaxies together and contribute to the majority of its mass.

The “Dark Detective” Unveiled

With its two-tonne size, Euclid stands tall at 4.7 meters and wide at 3.5 meters. Guadalupe Canas, a member of the Euclid consortium, describes it as a “dark detective” with the potential to shed light on both dark energy and dark matter. Euclid will employ two scientific instruments to survey the sky. Its visible light camera will measure the shapes of galaxies, while its near-infrared spectrometer and photometer will determine their distances.

Euclid’s method for detecting invisible entities relies on seeking their absence. As light travels billions of light-years to reach Earth, it undergoes slight distortion due to the presence of visible and dark matter along its path, known as weak gravitational lensing. Scientists can infer the existence of dark matter by subtracting the contribution of visible matter, although the true nature of dark matter may remain elusive. Nevertheless, this methodology is expected to provide valuable clues for future investigations.

The Expansion of the Universe

Through the study of dark energy, Euclid hopes to measure the rate at which the Universe expands. French astrophysicist David Elbaz compares this expansion to an inflating balloon with drawn lines. By quantifying the breath, or dark energy, that propels the Universe’s expansion, scientists aim to gain a deeper understanding of this enigma. Euclid’s wide field of view, equivalent to two full moons, allows it to explore the sky extensively, detecting exotic objects like black holes, which can then be further investigated by the James Webb telescope.

A Treasure Trove of Astronomical Discoveries

Beyond its investigation of dark energy and dark matter, Euclid’s comprehensive map of the Universe is expected to be a veritable “goldmine” for the field of astronomy. Scientists hope that the data collected by Euclid will provide invaluable insights into the evolution of galaxies, the nature of black holes, and various other astronomical phenomena. Initial images are scheduled to be captured once scientific operations commence in October, with major data releases planned for 2025, 2027, and 2030.

The Euclid space telescope is a 1.4-billion-euro (US$1.5-billion) mission projected to extend until 2029, with the possibility of an extension if successful. Its launch comes at a time when Europe faces challenges in independently sending missions into space, following Russia’s termination of cooperation and significant delays to the Ariane 6 rocket. Nonetheless, the launch of Euclid represents a significant milestone in humanity’s quest to comprehend the mysteries of the Universe. With this ambitious project, the doors to the unknown are opening wider, signaling a new era of exploration and discovery.

Space

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