By Steve Gorman
(RockedBuzz via Reuters) – A European-built orbital satellite was launched into space from Florida on Saturday on a mission to shed new light on mysterious cosmic phenomena known as dark energy and dark matter, unseen forces that scientists say account for 95 percent of the universe known .
The telescope dubbed Euclid, after the ancient Greek mathematician called the “father of geometry,” was carried high in the cargo bay of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that took off around 11:00 EDT (1500 GMT) from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
A livestream of the liftoff was shown on NASA TV.
New insights from the $1.4 billion European Space Agency (ESA) mission, designed to last at least six years, should transform astrophysics and perhaps our understanding of the very nature of gravity itself.
After a short flight into space, Euclid was to be released from the Falcon for a month-long journey to its destination in solar orbit about 1 million miles (1.6 million km) from Earth – a position of gravitational stability between the Earth and the sun called Lagrange’s Point Two, or L2.
From there, Euclid is designed to explore the evolution of what astrophysicists call the “dark universe,” using a wide-angle telescope to observe galaxies up to 10 billion light-years from Earth across an immense expanse of sky beyond our own. Milky Way galaxy.
The 2-ton spacecraft is also equipped with instruments designed to measure the intensity and spectra of infrared light from those galaxies in a way that will accurately determine their distances.
The mission focuses on two fundamental components of the dark universe. One is dark matter, the invisible but theoretically influential cosmic scaffolding designed to give shape and texture to the cosmos. The other is dark energy, an equally enigmatic force believed to explain why the expansion of the universe, as scientists learned in the 1990s, has been accelerating for some time.
The possibilities of the mission are reflected in the enormity of Euclid’s investigation. Scientists estimate that dark energy and dark matter together make up 95% of the cosmos, while the ordinary matter we can see accounts for only 5%.
Euclid was designed and built entirely by ESA, with the US space agency, NASA, providing photodetectors for its near-infrared instrument. The Euclid Consortium collectively comprises more than 2,000 scientists from 13 European nations, the United States, Canada and Japan.
After a decade of work, the mission was originally intended to be flown into space via a Russian Soyuz rocket. But launch plans passed to SpaceX, Elon Musk’s California firm, after the outbreak of war in Ukraine and because no space was immediately available from Europe’s Arianne missile program.
While the James Webb Space Telescope launched by NASA late last year allows astronomers to focus on particular objects in the early universe with unprecedented clarity, Euclid aims to expose the hidden fabric and mechanics of the cosmos by meticulously plotting a huge swath of the observable 3-D universe, more than 1 billion galaxies in all.
Dark matter and dark energy can’t be detected directly, but their properties “are encoded in the shapes and positions of galaxies,” said astrophysicist Jason Rhodes, Euclid chief scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory near in Los Angeles.
“Measuring the shapes and positions of galaxies allows us to infer the properties of dark matter and dark energy,” Rhodes said on Friday.
The data will be collected as Euclid maps the last 10 billion years of cosmic history across a third of the sky, looking outward, and then back in time, to an era of the universe that astronomers call “cosmic noon.” , when most of the stars were forming. .
Observing subtle but distinct changes in the shapes and positions of galaxies over vast periods of time and space will reveal subtle variations in cosmic acceleration, indirectly exposing dark energy forces, the scientists say.
Euclid will also help reveal the nature of dark matter by measuring an effect called gravitational lensing, which produces subtle distortions in the visible shapes of galaxies and is attributed to the presence of invisible material warping the fabric of space around it.
Through insights into dark energy and matter, scientists hope to better understand the formation and distribution of galaxies throughout the universe’s so-called cosmic web.
Beyond Euclid’s primary goals, it will provide “a gold mine for all fields of astronomy for several decades,” said Yannick Mellier, head of the Euclid Consortium and astronomer at the Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by William Mallard)