22nd June 2012
The European Space Agency (ESA) has formally approved an international collaboration of about 1 x 105 scientists from research institutes across Europe, along with some Americans, to design and build the satellite Euclid. Expected to be launched later this decade, Euclid will map approximately 2 x 109 galaxies and the dark matter around them. The Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias (IAC) is involved in developing one of the two instruments for the Euclid space telescope.
Euclid will include two instruments: one with a visible imaging channel (VIS); and the Near-Infrared Spectrometer (NISP), with a imaging channel and a spectroscopic channel. Research institutes from 13 member states of the European Union will develop the two science instruments for Euclid. They will also develop a distributed processing system for reviewing the enormous amount of data generated by the mission.The satellite’s IR detectors will be provided by NASA. The IAC, together with the Polytechnic University of Cartagena and the Space Science Institute in Catalonia, are participating in the development of the instrument-control unit for the NISP.
Seeing most of the Universe’s history
Using a telescope with a 1.2 m aperture, the Euclid mission will map the 3D distribution, locations, and shapes of the galaxies and their surrounding dark matter. The region to be mapped extends to a radius of about 1 x 1010 light years from earth; this is equivalent to mapping the evolution of the Universe over about three quarters of its history.
The Euclid study will address 40% of the entire sky. The deep-field mission will cover a patch of sky equivalent to 100 times the size of the full moon, or 1.5 x 104 times the angular area covered by the Hubble Space Telescope’s “Ultra Deep Field” exposure. The combination of depth and sky coverage might allow Euclid to detect the first galaxies that formed at the beginning of the Universe.
“We have had to work very hard to get here, but now we have a solid project to build a space telescope that will allow very precise measurements which will enlighten the nature of dark energy,” says Yannick Mellier from the Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris and head of the Euclid Consortium. “For this, we have a fantastic team that includes experts in all aspects of astronomy, physics, satellite construction, and design of software.”
Answering a fundamental question
Euclid will be optimized to meet one of the most important questions of modern cosmology: Why is the Universe expanding at an accelerating rate, instead of decelerating due to the gravitational attraction of the Universe’s matter? The term “dark energy” is often used to refer to this unknown accelerating force. This dark energy constitutes three quarters of the total energy of the Universe: three times the energy associated with dark matter and about 20 times the energy of normal matter. There are many ideas about what could be, but there is still no convincing explanation of the nature of this mysterious substance in the Universe. The scientific community believes the discovery will revolutionize the nature of fundamental physics and our knowledge of the physical laws of nature.
The Euclid Consortium is made up of more than 100 laboratories in 13 European countries: Germany, Austria, Denmark, Spain, France, Finland, Italy, Norway, Switzerland, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, and the UK. It also includes several U.S. laboratories.