Euclid mission to understand dark universe joins European Space Agency

Published on Tuesday, 11 October 2011 - 9:20am
Euclid mission to understand dark universe joins European Space Agency

The Euclid mission, which aims to understand the origin of the accelerating expansion of the Universe, has been selected by the European Space Agency's (ESA) Cosmic Vision Programme.

The Euclid satellite will observe 1.5 billion galaxies in an effort to track the effects of dark energy, dark matter and gravity on the expansion and growth of cosmic structures in the Universe over the last 10 billion years. At the heart of Euclid is a massive optical digital camera - one of the largest such cameras put into space. Every 15 minutes it will produce an image that is the equivalent of nearly 300 HDTV screens, and in six years it will have surveyed 75 per cent of the sky. ESA plans to launch the Euclid satellite in 2019.

"Euclid is a wonderful step for European and UK science," Professor Andrew Taylor

Euclid and the Institute for Astronomy

The School's Institute for Astronomy (IFA) is heavily involved in several aspects of the mission, with the UK Euclid Science Data Centre to be based at the Royal Observatory (ROE), and run by the IFA’s Wide Field Astronomy Unit.

Professor Andrew Taylor, Professor of Astrophysics at the University's Institute for Astronomy, leads the UK Ground Segment for Euclid, responsible for coordinating the UK’s Euclid data analysis. He also leads the measurement of the Weak Gravitational Lensing signal – one of Euclid's two main science probes which will map the dark matter and probe dark energy – which will also be carried out in Edinburgh. "Euclid is a wonderful step for European and UK Science," said Professor Taylor. "Dark energy and dark matter are two of the biggest problems in Cosmology and Physics today, and Euclid will bring us much closer to explaining them. Edinburgh has a big part to play in this."

Thomas Kitching, a Royal Society Research Fellow at the IFA, is one of four European leads of the Euclid Science Group (a team of over 800 scientists) and co-leads the Weak Lensing science group. He said: "Euclid will image the sky with the same quality and depth as the hugely successful Hubble Space Telescope but over an area of sky thousands of times larger, producing so many images that it would take a million USB sticks to store the information." 

"By imaging the majority of galaxies in our observable Universe, Euclid will unveil the mysteries of dark energy and gravity, revolutionising physics for decades to come." Thomas Kitching, IFA

About Euclid

Euclid is designed to understand the origin of Universe's accelerating expansion that physicists and astronomers refer to as "Dark Energy". Current observations show that dark energy comprises more than 70% of the matter-energy of the present-day Universe and is therefore driving its evolution.

To achieve this, it is proposed to build a satellite equipped with a 1.2 m telescope and three imaging and spectroscopic instruments working in the visible and near-infrared wavelength domains. These instruments will observe several hundreds of million galaxies over a large fraction of sky and will track the observational signatures of dark energy, dark matter and gravity on the geometry of the Universe and the cosmic history of structure formation. By measuring the apparent shapes and the distribution of galaxies in the Universe, astronomers will then derive what is dark energy and whether the general theory of relativity is still a valid gravitation theory on scales beyond billions of light years.

Euclid is planned for launch in 2019, with ESA funding the spacecraft, launch and operations. The UK and other national partners (Austria, Denmark, Italy, Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Spain, Switzerland) will fund the scientific instruments and the ground segment activities.

Nine UK institutions are involved in Euclid’s instrument development or data/processing/analysis activities: University College London; University of Durham; the Institute for Astronomy in Edinburgh; UK ATC; University of Oxford; University of Portsmouth; University of Hertfordshire; the Open University and the University of Cambridge.

In addition, many scientists across the UK are involved in the scientific definition of Euclid and will have access to the data. Across Europe, the Euclid consortium contains over 800 scientists from 110 institutions.