A mission aimed at unraveling some of the universe’s greatest mysteries has successfully commenced. On Saturday at 11:12 a.m. ET, the Euclid space telescope, developed by the European Space Agency, embarked on its journey. Lifted by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, the telescope transmitted a signal to mission control at approximately 11:57 a.m. ET.
With a diameter of 1.2 meters (4 feet), Euclid is now en route to its orbital destination, known as the sun-Earth Lagrange point L2, located nearly 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) away from our planet. This unique point also serves as the residence of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. Throughout Earth’s orbit around the sun, Euclid will maintain synchrony.
Once it reaches its designated orbit, the telescope will dedicate two months to testing and calibrating its instruments, which include a visible light camera and a near-infrared camera/spectrometer. Subsequently, Euclid will embark on a comprehensive survey, covering one-third of the sky, over the course of the next six years.
Investigating cosmic mysteries
Euclid’s primary objective is to observe the enigmatic aspects of the universe, commonly referred to as the “dark side.” This includes the study of dark matter and dark energy. Dark matter, although never directly detected, is estimated to constitute a significant 85% of the total matter in the universe. On the other hand, dark energy is a mysterious force believed to contribute to the ongoing acceleration of the universe’s expansion.
In the 1920s, astronomers Georges Lemaître and Edwin Hubble made a groundbreaking discovery: the universe has been expanding ever since its inception 13.8 billion years ago. However, research conducted in the 1990s revealed that approximately 6 billion years ago, the expansion of the universe started accelerating, and the cause behind this phenomenon remains elusive. Understanding the true nature of dark energy and dark matter holds the potential to shed light on the composition of the universe, its evolutionary history, and even the fundamental nature of gravity.
Both dark matter and dark energy also exert influence on the distribution and movement of celestial objects, such as galaxies and stars, throughout the cosmos. Euclid, with its sophisticated design, aims to construct the most extensive and precise three-dimensional map of the universe. By observing billions of galaxies that reside up to 10 billion light-years away, Euclid seeks to unveil the subtle effects of dark energy’s stretching and pulling on matter throughout cosmic history. These observations will enable Euclid to witness the evolution of the universe over the past 10 billion years, providing valuable insights into its intricate development.
A dynamic duo
In May 2027, the Nancy Grace Roman Telescope will join Euclid in orbit, marking an important collaboration in the study of cosmic acceleration through their creation of three-dimensional maps of the universe. The missions will address the persistent mystery of the universe’s accelerated expansion, which has intrigued astrophysicists for the past 25 years. Jason Rhodes, a senior research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, expressed the significance of these upcoming telescopes in a statement, stating that they will enable the measurement of dark energy in new ways and with unprecedented precision. This development ushers in a new era of exploration into the enigmatic nature of dark energy.
The Nancy Grace Roman Telescope, designed to study one-twentieth of the sky using infrared light, offers enhanced depth and precision compared to Euclid. It will peer back to a time when the universe was merely 2 billion years old, enabling the detection of fainter galaxies that are beyond Euclid’s reach. Additionally, the Roman telescope possesses the capability to search for rogue planets not orbiting any stars, explore exoplanets across our galaxy, and investigate objects on the outskirts of our solar system.
Yun Wang, a senior research scientist at the California Institute of Technology, emphasized the synergistic impact of Euclid and Roman, stating that their combined observations will provide astronomers with a more comprehensive understanding of the workings of the universe. Together, these telescopes will unravel the mysteries that have eluded us, offering valuable insights into the cosmic phenomena that shape our existence.