Europe is about to launch the first mission to discover the dark side of the universe: ScienceAlert

The European space telescope Euclid is scheduled to launch on Saturday on its first-ever mission, which aims to shed light on two of the universe’s greatest mysteries: dark energy and dark matter.

The launch is scheduled from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 11:11 a.m. local time (1511 GMT) on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

You can watch live below:

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The European Space Agency was forced to turn to billionaire Elon Musk’s competitor to launch the mission after Russia withdrew its Soyuz rockets in response to sanctions over the war in Ukraine.

After a month-long journey through space, Euclid will join his colleague in the James Webb Space Telescope at a stable floating point about 1.5 million kilometers (more than 930,000 miles) from Earth, the second Lagrangian point.

From there, Euclid will create the largest map of the Universe to date, encompassing up to two billion galaxies across more than a third of the sky.

By capturing the light that took 10 billion years to reach Earth, the map will also offer a new look at the 13.8 billion year history of the universe.

Scientists hope to use this information to address what Euclid project manager Giuseppe Racca calls a “cosmic embarrassment”: that 95 percent of the universe remains unknown to mankind.

It is believed that about 70 percent is dark energy, the name for the unknown force that is causing the universe to expand at an accelerated rate.

And 25 percent is dark matter, which is thought to hold the universe together and make up about 80 percent of its mass.

Dark detective

Guadalupe Canas, a member of the Euclid Consortium, told a press conference that the two-ton space telescope is a “dark detective” that can reveal more about both elements.

Euclid, which is 4.7 meters (15 ft) high and 3.5 meters (11 ft) wide, will use two scientific instruments to map the sky.

His visible-light camera can measure the shape of galaxies, while his near-infrared spectrometer and photometer allow him to measure how far away they are.

So how will Euclid try to see things that cannot be seen? By looking for their absence.

Coming from billions of light-years away, the light is slightly distorted by the mass of visible and dark matter along the way, a phenomenon known as weak gravitational lensing.

“By subtracting the visible matter, we can calculate the presence of the dark matter in between,” Racca told AFP.

While this may not reveal the true nature of dark matter, scientists hope it will provide new clues that will help track it down in the future.

Regarding dark energy, French astrophysicist David Elbaz compared the expansion of the universe to inflating a balloon with lines drawn on it.

By “seeing how quickly it puffs up,” scientists hope to measure the breath — or dark energy — that’s expanding it.

gold mine

A key difference between Euclid and other space telescopes is its large field of view, which occupies an area equivalent to that of two full moons.

Project scientist Rene Laureijs said this broader view means Euclid will be able to “surf through the sky and find exotic objects” like black holes, which the Webb telescope can then study in more detail.

Dark energy and matter aside, Euclid’s map of the universe is likely to be a “gold mine for the entire field of astronomy,” said Yannick Mellier, head of the Euclid Consortium.

Scientists hope Euclid’s data will help them learn more about the evolution of galaxies, black holes and more.

The first images are expected as soon as scientific operations begin in October. Important dates are scheduled for release in 2025, 2027 and 2030.

The €1.4 billion ($1.5 billion) mission is scheduled to run until 2029, but could take a little longer if all goes well.

The launch comes as Europe faces little opportunity to launch its missions independently due to the end of cooperation with Russia last year and long delays in the next-generation Ariane 6 rocket.

© Agence France-Presse

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