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Meet the European spacecraft that will hunt for dark matter later this year

Published Jun 22nd, 2023 5:07PM EDT
euclid, the ESA's dark matter hunting spacecraft
Image: ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/NASA. Background galaxies: NASA, ESA, and S. Beckwith (STScI) and the HUDF Team

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The European Space Agency (ESA) is getting ready to kick off one of its biggest hunts for evidence of dark matter at the start of July. The kick will happen when it launches its Euclid spacecraft, which is essentially a dark-matter hunting space telescope that will peer deep into our universe for any signs of these intriguing and mysterious aspects of our universe.

Both dark matter and dark energy are believed to be foundational to the current state of our universe, and essential to our understanding of the universe. However, finding evidence of either has been difficult. While scientists believe they may have found evidence of dark energy, they haven’t quite cracked the dark matter mystery completely.

With the Euclid, though, the ESA plans to explore the composition and evolution of the dark Universe and create a “great map of the large-sclae structure of the Universe across space and time,” the ESA explains in an older post on the space telescope. Euclid was originally slated to launch last year aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket. However, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine put a lot of strain on the mission, and the ESA has now partnered with SpaceX to launch Euclid.

lagrange points breakdown for euclid mission to hunt for dark matter
This illustration showcases the different lagrange points and how they correspond to Earth’s orbit around the Sun. Image source: Nattapon / Adobe

Euclid is set to lift off aboard a Falcon 9 rocket on July 1. After launch, Euclid will first need to complete a journey to L2, the second Lagrange point, which is located roughly 1.5 million kilometers from Earth. It’s also in the opposite direction of the Sun. L2, like the other Lagrange points, is what we call an equilibrium point, where the Sun and Earth’s gravitational pull essentially cancel each other out.

Once the space telescope reaches its destination at L2, it’ll spend a few weeks cooling off before the hunt for evidence of dark matter in our universe properly begins. There are five main mysteries that the ESA hopes to solve using Euclid.

First, it hopes to determine the structure and history of the cosmic web. It also hopes to determine the nature of dark matter as a whole as well as how the expansion of the universe has changed and developed over time. Additionally, the ESA hopes that Euclid will also help determine the nature of dark energy and whether or not our current understanding of gravity is complete.

It’s unclear if Euclid will accomplish all five goals, but when you’re talking about an $850 million spacecraft, it’s good to have some lofty goals to reach for. You can check out the Euclid’s full mission launch plan in an interactive kit the ESA released.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.