Manchester scientists help to map the dark Universe

Scientists at The University of Manchester are involved in an international satellite mission to map the dark Universe.

The European Space Agency's (ESA) Euclid flagship Dark Energy Satellite Mission is due to launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Saturday, 1 July 2023. 

Euclid’s six-year mission is to map the dark Universe, using the positions of galaxies and images of dark matter produced from the gravitational lensing distortions of distant galaxies.

The maps contain information about the expansion history of the Universe and the evolution of the structure within it and by analysing these maps, astronomers will be able to determine the nature of both dark matter and dark energy.

Dark matter - which unlike normal matter does not reflect or emit light - binds together galaxies creating the environment for stars, planets and life, while dark energy is a mysterious new phenomenon which is pushing galaxies away from each other and causing the expansion of the Universe to accelerate.

The Euclid Consortium team, which includes scientists from The University of Manchester, will carry out a very precise and accurate analysis of the images and distances of 1.5 billion galaxies over one-third of the sky.

Euclid will also measure the spectrum of light from over 35 million galaxies to accurately measure their distance from Earth.

The University of Manchester will lead the work to understand the properties of galaxies that Euclid will study, including an investigation into how the first galaxies formed and developing and testing new methods for understanding the galaxy data when it arrives. 

Professor Christopher Conselice of the University of Manchester, who leads the Legacy Science analysis for Euclid, said: “Euclid will change our entire view of the Universe. It will reveal the origin of the still mysterious dark energy, as well as provide us with data that will help explain the origin of stars, galaxies and planets. The importance of this mission cannot be overstated.”

Rebecca Bowler, a Research Fellow at the University of Manchester, who is leading the efforts to find the most distant galaxies with Euclid, added: "Euclid will revolutionise our understanding of how the very first galaxies and super-massive black holes are formed.”

“Euclid will change our entire view of the Universe."

Professor Christopher Conselice

The Euclid satellite hosts two state-of-the-art instruments, an optical camera (VIS) built in the UK, and a Near-Infrared (NISP) camera led by France. The VIS Instrument will take images as sharp as those from the Hubble Space Telescope to measure the gravitational lensing distortions.

The NISP Instrument will take multicolour images and the spectrum of light of galaxies from which their distance can be measured.

Euclid’s wide field of view and large instruments will allow it to image more area of sky in one day than the Hubble Space Telescope in its first 25 years.

After Launch, Euclid will travel over one million miles into space away from the Sun, where the combined gravity of the Sun and Earth will cause it to orbit the Sun once a year, in step with the Earth.

It will scan the sky and send many petabytes of data back to ESA’s ground stations where the data is distributed across nine Euclid Science Data Centres located in Europe, and one in North America.

The UK’s Science Data Centre is hosted in Edinburgh.

The Data Centres will process the Euclid data, along with data from complementary ground-based astronomical surveys, day and night, ready for teams of scientists to work on, with the results released to the public.

The mission, including the design, construction and analysis, involves more than 2000 scientists from Europe, including many from the UK, along with the European Space Agency and industrial teams.

The UK has been involved in the design and building of Euclid from its earliest days, co-leading the teams defining the science programme and observational strategy, leading the construction of the VIS Instrument, leading the gravitational lensing data analysis and production of its high-level data products, and coordinating the science analysis for Euclid, along with many other roles.

As well as aiming to answer some of science's most fundamental questions about the nature of the Universe, Euclid is set to revolutionise studies across all of astronomy, providing a lasting legacy database for professional astronomers and the public to explore.

For more information about the Euclid mission in the UK visit: https://eucliduk.github.io/

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