Mission To Map The “Dark Universe” Sets Off On Space Journey
Credit: ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/NASA. Background galaxies: NASA, ESA, and S. Beckwith (STScI) and the HUDF Team, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO
The Euclid space telescope will map the “dark Universe” by observing billions of galaxies out to 10 billion lightyears, across more than a third of the sky, to gather data on how its structure has formed over its cosmic history.
Led by the European Space Agency (ESA) and a consortium of 2,000 scientists across 16 countries, Euclid will spend six years venturing through space with two scientific instruments: a UK-built visible imager (VIS) that will become one of the largest cameras ever sent into space, and a near infrared spectrometer and photometer, developed in France.
Secretary of State for Science and Technology Chloe Smith said:
"The launch of the Euclid mission is a truly significant moment. Backed by £37 million in UK funding and supported by our remarkable scientific talent and expertise, the mission will launch one of the largest cameras ever into space to look out across our universe.
"The mission will gain unparalleled insight into the mysteries of how the Universe was formed, delivering ground-breaking discoveries that will redefine what we know about space."
Dr Paul Bate, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said:
"Watching the launch of Euclid, I feel inspired by the years of hard work from thousands of people that go into space science missions, and the fundamental importance of discovery – how we set out to understand and explore the Universe.
"The UK Space Agency’s £37 million investment in Euclid has supported world-class science on this journey, from the development of the ground segment to the build of the crucial visible imager instrument, which will help humanity begin to uncover the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy."
The Euclid spacecraft being loaded into the SpaceX Falcon 9 fairing ahead of launch, on 27 June 2023. Credit: SpaceX.
Euclid took off on board a SpaceX spacecraft from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 4.12pm (BST) on 1 July.
The UK Space Agency’s funding goes back to 2010, up to 2024, and is divided between teams at University College London, The Open University, University of Cambridge, University of Edinburgh, University of Oxford, University of Portsmouth and Durham University.
All these institutions have contributed to the development and implementation of the Euclid UK Science Ground Segment (UKSGS), which runs the Euclid data analysis. Led by the University of Edinburgh, which hosts Euclid’s UK Science Data Centre (SDC-UK), the UKSGS will process hundreds of petabytes of data over the next six years to produce maps of the galaxies and dark matter of the Universe.
The wider Euclid Consortium includes experts from 300 organisations across 13 European countries, the US, Canada and Japan.
The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) also contributed to design and development work on Euclid instrumentation and provided funding to UK astronomy teams who will analyse the data returned from the mission, including studies on the physics responsible for the observed accelerated expansion of the Universe.
Executive Chair at STFC Professor Mark Thomson said:
Research funded by the UK Space Agency
"Euclid will answer some of the biggest and most profound questions we have about the Universe and dark energy. Congratulations to everyone involved in the design, construction and launch of Euclid – we are opening a new window on the cosmos.
"This is a fantastic example of close collaboration between scientists, engineers, technicians, and astronomers across Europe working together to tackle some of the biggest questions in science."
University College London (MSSL and P&A) – Design, build and testing of Euclid’s VIS optical camera (£20.5 million)
UCL researchers have led on designing, building and testing the VIS optical camera, one of Euclid’s two instruments, working with teams at Open University as well as in France, Italy and Switzerland. The core electronics for the instrument, including its complex array of 36 CCDs (that convert photons into electrons), were built at UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory. The camera, one of the largest ever sent into space, will take high resolution, panoramic images of a large swathe of the Universe, going back 10 billion years and covering a third of the night sky.
Professor Benjamin Joachimi (UCL Physics & Astronomy) is also playing a key role in the ground-based part of the mission (the ground segment), converting Euclid’s raw data into statistical summaries that can be compared to our current theoretical models of the universe.
Professor Mark Cropper, leader of the VIS camera team at UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory, said:
"The VIS instrument will image a large swathe of the distant Universe with almost the fine resolution of the Hubble Space Telescope, observing more of the Universe in one day than Hubble did in 25 years. The data will allow us to infer the distribution of dark matter across the Universe more precisely than ever before. The galaxies being imaged are up to 10 billion years old so we will also see how dark matter has evolved over most of the Universe’s history. The Universe on this scale has not yet been seen in this level of detail."
Professor Tom Kitching, one of four science co-ordinators for Euclid, said:
"The puzzles we hope to address are fundamental. Are our models of the Universe correct? What is dark energy? Is it vacuum energy – the energy of virtual particles popping in and out of existence in empty space? Is it a new particle field that we didn’t expect? Or it may be Einstein’s theory of gravity that is wrong. Whatever the answer, a revolution in physics is almost guaranteed."