Europe has given the final go-ahead to a space mission to investigate the “dark universe”.
The Euclid telescope will look deep into the cosmos for clues to the nature of dark matter and dark energy. These phenomena dominate the Universe, and yet scientists concede they know virtually nothing about them. European Space Agency (Esa) member states made their decision at a meeting in Paris. Euclid should be ready for launch in 2019.
Esa nations had already selected the telescope as a preferred venture in October last year, but Tuesday’s “adoption” by the Science Programme Committee (SPC) means the financing and the technical wherewithal is now in place to proceed.
The cost to Esa of building, launching and operating Euclid is expected to be just over 600m euros (£480m; $760m). Member states will provide Euclid’s visible wavelength camera and a near-infrared camera/spectrometer, taking the likely cost of the whole endeavour beyond 800m euros.
A key task of the telescope will be to map the distribution of dark matter, the matter that cannot be detected directly but which astronomers know to be there because of its gravitational effects on the matter we can see.
Galaxies, for example, could not hold their shape were it not for the presence of some additional “scaffolding”. This is presumed to be dark matter – whatever that is.
Although this material cannot be seen directly, the telescope can plot its distribution by looking for the subtle way its mass distorts the light coming from distant galaxies. Hubble famously did this for a tiny patch on the sky – just two square degrees.
Edited from Euclid telescope to probe dark universe.