NASA and the European Space Agency announced this week that the two organizations have partnered on the ESA’s Euclid mission. This mission, a space telescope that launches in 2020, is designed to further astronomers’ understanding of the roles dark matter and dark energy played in the evolution of the universe.
As part of the arrangement, NASA will provide 6 infrared detectors and four spare detectors. They have also nominated three science teams for participation in the Euclid consortium, which is a team of scientists that will be analyzing the data from Euclid.
After launch, Euclid will head to one of Earth’s Lagrange points, L2. At this point in space, the gravity of the Earth and the Sun act in such a way that the telescope will be stationary relative to the Earth and Sun. Euclid is expected to operate for at least 6 years.
Over that time, Euclid will map about 2 billion galaxies, covering about 75% of the history of the universe. The goal is to learn much more about how the universe evolved over its history. The mission also hopes to give scientists a bigger clue as to the role dark matter and energy play in the universe. In particular, what role they play in understanding why gravity hasn’t slowed down the expansion of the universe.
The matter that we’re familiar with in our everyday lives – rocks, food, puppies, etc. – is only a small fraction of the total amount of matter in the universe. Most of it is what physicists currently term ‘dark matter’ – which has distinct gravitational effects, but the properties of which aren’t well known. Those properties aren’t well understood because dark matter doesn’t interact with light.
That doesn’t seem like much, but scientists know even less about dark energy. Dark energy is a hypothetical form of energy that is causing the expansion of the universe. There are several different ideas about what that dark energy might be, but more precise measurements of the universe are needed to figure out exactly what it is. It’s those measurements that Euclid will be pursuing during its mission.
“ESA’s Euclid mission is designed to probe one of the most fundamental questions in modern cosmology, and we welcome NASA’s contribution to this important endeavour, the most recent in a long history of cooperation in space science between our two agencies,” said Alvaro Giménez Cañete of the ESA in a press release.