The European Space Agency (ESA) has successfully launched its Euclid space telescope to study the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy. The spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida using a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with liftoff at 11:12 a.m. ET (8:12 a.m. PT).
The space telescope separated from the Falcon 9 rocket and is now on its way to its orbit around the sun. It will orbit at the second Lagrange point, called L2, which is the same orbit used by the James Webb Space Telescope as well as other space telescopes. This orbit has the advantage of requiring minimal power to maintain and being extremely stable. That stability is important because the telescope will take very detailed images of large portions of the sky, and these need to be highly accurate to measure the subtle effects of dark matter and dark energy.
Unlike some telescopes like James Webb, which are folded up for launch and must unfold once they arrive in space, Euclid will only deploy a single high gain antenna as it travels to L2. That’s also due to the need for stability for the very sensitive readings it must take.
The idea of the Euclid mission is to examine some of the biggest questions in cosmology about the nature of dark matter and dark energy. To understand these phenomena, the mission will take images of over one-third of the sky, looking beyond the Milky Way at distant background galaxies. By looking at how galaxies cluster in space, researchers can see the effects of dark energy which affects the expansion of the universe. And by making use of a phenomenon called gravitational lensing, they can see the differences between the perceived and actual mass of galaxies — with the difference being due to dark matter.
“Today we celebrate the successful launch of a ground-breaking mission that places Europe at the forefront of cosmological studies,” said Carole Mundell, ESA’s Director of Science. “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. 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.”
Euclid is scheduled to arrive at its orbit at L2 in around four weeks’ time, where it will spend around two months preparing its instruments before beginning science operations.
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