Europe Prepares to Launch Spacecraft to Observe 'Dark Side’ of Universe

25 June 2023

The European Space Agency (ESA) is preparing to launch a spacecraft designed to study the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy across far reaches of the universe.

The launch of ESA's Euclid spacecraft is set for July 1. It will lift off from Florida's Cape Canaveral launch center aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

Euclid is a space telescope built to act as an orbiting observatory. It will gather data scientists hope to use to create a 3D map of the universe. The spacecraft is expected to observe activities in billions of galaxies and help researchers learn more about how the universe developed over the past 10 billion years.

This artist's impression depicts the European Space Agency's Euclid spacecraft, set for a July 1 launch, which will carry out a mission to explore the Dark Side of the universe. (Image Credit: ESA)
This artist's impression depicts the European Space Agency's Euclid spacecraft, set for a July 1 launch, which will carry out a mission to explore the "Dark Side" of the universe. (Image Credit: ESA)

The main goal of the Euclid mission is to study the effects and activities of dark energy and dark matter – both of which are considered mysterious forces in the universe. This is because neither of these two materials can be directly seen or felt.

Astronomers believe dark energy makes up about 68 percent of the universe, while dark matter makes up around 27 percent, the American space agency NASA reports. But beyond that, very little is known about the two "dark" elements.

Dark energy is an unidentifiable form of energy that scientists believe is responsible for helping the universe expand. Dark matter is a material that also affects the expansion of the universe. Astronomers have theorized that dark matter exists because of gravity's observed effects on galaxies and groups of galaxies.

Leaders of the mission say Euclid was built to collect data on how the universe "has expanded and how structure has formed over cosmic history," an ESA statement says. With this information, scientists will attempt to explain some of the properties of dark energy, dark matter and gravity, the statement added.

The Euclid spacecraft is 4.7 meters tall and 3.7 meters around. It contains two main parts, called modules. One module is made up of a telescope and two scientific instruments. The other contains satellite systems, power controllers, data processors and other equipment.

Euclid will travel to an orbiting spot about 1.5 million kilometers from Earth. The area is called the second Lagrangian Point. This is where NASA's James Webb Space Telescope operates from, as well as ESA's orbiting observatory Gaia.

Mission leaders say Euclid will capture images in optical and near-infrared light. The images will cover about one-third of the universe beyond our Milky Way galaxy.

The quality of the images is expected to be "at least four times sharper" than others captured by ground-based telescopes, the team said. These images will be used to create a new, detailed 3D map of the universe. The first images are expected to be sent back quickly once the spacecraft's operations begin in October.

In addition to studying dark matter and dark energy, Euclid will use its infrared instruments to collect data on hundreds of millions of galaxies and stars. Astronomers say this will permit them to investigate the chemical makeup and motion behaviors of many different space objects and environments in greater detail.

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is also based on powerful, but sensitive, infrared technology. This has permitted the telescope to collect data and produce images from parts of the universe that were never observable before.

I'm Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from the European Space Agency and Agence France-Presse and NASA.


Words in This Story

mission – n. a flight by an aircraft or spacecraft to perform a specific task

optical adj. of or relating to light instead of other forms of energy