SpaceX launches Euclid space telescope to study ‘dark universe’

Dark energy and dark matter are enigmatic concepts targeted by a European Space Agency space telescope named Euclid that launched from the Space Coast.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 on the ESA mission that looks to send Euclid to a point nearly 1 million miles from Earth close to where the James Webb Space Telescope is parked in space.

The first-stage booster for the flight made its second launch and made its recovery landing on the droneship A Shortfall of Gravitas downrange in the Atlantic Ocean.

Euclid, named after the Greek mathematician known as the father of geometry, is a 15-foot-tall, 12-foot-diameter probe armed with a telescope that has both a visible-wavelength camera and a near-infrared camera and spectrometer with sensors provided by NASA.

Operations will begin about three months after it takes up space in a spot known as Lagrange point 2 keeping the sun, Earth and moon to its back. Targeting at least six years of operation, it aims to make a 3D map of a massive portion of the universe covering one-third of the sky outside the Milky Way. In its scope will be billions of cosmic targets with some whose light has been traveling for 10 billion years.

Its optical and near-infrared imagery will be at least four times better than what can be seen from ground-based observations on Earth.

“The Euclid mission aims to uncover the mysteries of the dark universe,” according to the ESA mission profile. “This ominous-sounding invisible part of the cosmos makes up more than 95% of the mass and energy in our universe.”

The team identified three portions of the sky on which it will focus 10% of its observation time to delve into the nature of dark energy and dark matter. These fall outside the bright spaces of the Milky Way as well as the interstellar matter and diffuse dust in our solar system along the zodiac. Two of the three deep surveys have overlap with existing observations from other astronomical space resources such as the Spitzer Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory.

“Dark matter and energy affect the motion and distribution of visible sources, but do not emit or absorb any light, and scientists do not know yet what these entities actually are,” according to the ESA.

The profile states dark energy seems to drive the current accelerated expansion of our universe, but scientists do not understand how and why. The 3D map Euclid aims to make will look from the time when most stars were forming until today.

“This ‘looking back in time’ will show us the variations in the cosmic acceleration with extreme precision, revealing the nature of dark energy in this process,” the mission profile states.

As far as dark matter goes, it’s posited to be particles that don’t emit light like planets, stars and other matter. Its existence affects movement of those objects that we can see. Some of it could be sourced to hypothetical primordial black holes that could have formed soon after the Big Bang, the mission profile states. Euclid’s observation will help test this hypothesis.

In addition to delving into the nature of the dark universe, Euclid aims to see how the universe has expanded over time and tackle questions related to gravity.

The mission serves the Euclid Consortium that has more than 2,000 scientists from 300 institutes in the U.S., 13 European countries, Canada and Japan. It’s part of the ESA’s “Cosmic Vision 2015-2025” plan that has also included the launch of the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer this past April, the Solar Orbiter in 2020 and exoplanet space telescope CHEOPS in 2019.