Decoding dark matter and energy: what you need to know about the Euclid mission launching this weekend

Together, dark matter and dark energy make up 95% of the known universe, yet scientists do not know what they are. The Euclid telescope, set to be launched into space from Florida on Saturday, could help decipher them.

Here’s what you need to know about the world’s newest space telescope.

What is Euclid?

Euclid is a space telescope that will observe the universe in infrared wavelengths. Its main goal is to map the geometry of the dark universe, hence the name, for the Greek astronomer who invented the basis of modern geometry in the 3rd century BC

The Euclids wavelength range is 1.1 to 2 microns, firmly in the near infrared realm. Incidentally, TThe Webb Space Telescope also offers images at near-infrared wavelengths, but it isn’t looking for very different things.

The spacecraft has two scientific instruments: a visible light camera (or VIS) and its near-infrared camera and spectrometer (NISP). Its image quality will be at least four times sharper than land-based sky surveys, according to a European Space Agency publication.

The Euclid telescope has a launch date scheduled for Saturday, July 1.

The telescope is nearly 4 feet (1.2 meters) in diameter, and the spacecraft is about 15.4 feet (4.7 meters) tall. In orbit, the mass of the spacecraft will be 2.2 tons (2 metric tons).

The Euclid mission has an expected lifespan of six years, though it could be extended depending on how much fuel the telescope has at the end of that timeline.

What is Euclid looking for (and why)?

The universe has been around for nearly 14 billion years; it has been clouded by heat and light at times, but it has also undergone cloudy ages wrapped in gas. For the past billion years, the universe has been expanding at an accelerated rate. The driver of this expansion is uncertain, so the catch-all term dark energy is used to describe whatever may be responsible.

Astronomers hope Euclid will begin to explain dark energy, but also dark matter, the umbrella term for the unknown mass in the universe. While dark matter is invisible to us no instrument has ever directly detected it, we know it exists due to its gravitational effects. For example, dark matter bends light around itself, allowing scientists to see it in the gravitational lens of distant light sources.

Gravitational lensing distorts light from distant sources and indicates the presence of dark matter.

Dark matter candidates are many, and it’s entirely possible, if not probable, that dark matter is made up of multiple things. But the most popular candidates these days are Weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs) and axions, a subatomic particle named after a laundry detergent. dark photonseven particles that can behave like a particle or a wave, such as particles of light, are in the mix.

Since distant light is affected by dark matter, it’s a good place for Euclid to look for explanations. The telescope will look at billions of targets that are seen as they were 10 billion years ago, according to ESA. Its images will cover over a third of the sky beyond the Milky Way.

Euclid will look at all types of gravitational lensing, from the strong lens that produces Einstein’s fascinating rings to the weak lens that distorts distant galaxies, to better understand the properties of dark matter. A the recent study of Einstein’s rings strengthened the case for a type of axionic dark matter, or dark matter that behaved like a wave, rather than a particle.

An Einstein ring surrounds a bright red galaxy, a prime example of gravitational lensing.

Euclid will also watch baryon acoustic oscillations of the universeor bubbles of dense particles that rippled outward in the first 300,000 years after the Big Bang (seems like a long time, but it was the infancy of our universe). Studying how these bubbles emanated outward will clarify the rate of expansion of the universes during its nearly 14 billion year existence.

The ultimate goal of Euclids’ observations is to collect data on distant cosmic sources that help explain the properties of dark matter and dark energy. In addition to pulling back the curtain on the nature of these unknown aspects of the universe, Euclids data will help scientists understand the cosmic webor the superscale structure of our universe, from the shape and spatial orientation of galaxies to the distribution of mass across the cosmos.

With Euclid, sscientists can tinker with the biggest outstanding questions of astrophysics science: why the universe is expanding, when it will stop expanding, what particles in the universe we have not yet detected and why, what is the ultimate fate of the universe, and so on.

What are the launch details?

Euclid is ready to launch not before 11:11 ET Saturday from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The spacecraft’s backup launch date is Sunday, July 2, according to a European Space Agency publication.

Euclid is launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Originally, the plan was to launch the telescope in 2022 aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket, but the cooperation of ESA with the Russian space agency Roscosmos ceased following the Russian invasion of Ukrainerejecting the launch and landing the spacecraft on a US aircraft company rocket.

ESA briefly considered launching Euclid ON own Ariane 6 rocketbut since last month the rocket it hasn’t exited the launchpad yet.

Launch of Euclid in L2

Euclid will launch to L2 (or the second Lagrange point), a region of space about a million miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth that allows objects to be gravitationally suspended in such a way as to minimize their fuel consumption to stay in orbital position. The Gaia and Webb space telescopes are also at L2.

If Euclids’ launch is accurate, the telescope may be able to conserve propellant, thus extending the duration of its mission. The minimum baseline of the Webb Space Telescopes was five years, but thanks to its launch the observatory may last more than 20 years.

If the launch goes as planned, Euclid is expected to separate from its Falcon 9 launch vehicle at 11:53 local time, and the team on the ground will first receive a signal from the spacecraft at around 11:57. according to ESA.

You can watch the launch live on Saturday here (for the NASA feed) OR here (for ESA).

More: Desperate to launch: Europe looks to SpaceX as rocket woes continue

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