Euclid jumps final hurdle

ESA today formally adopted the largest collaboration of astronomers in the world to help build the Euclid satellite. This is the final phase to the selection of Euclid as part of their “Cosmic Vision” programme and sets in motion an army of scientists and engineers to build and fly this new mission by the end of this decade. Euclid will study the “dark universe” with great precision, tracing the distribution and evolution of the enigmatic dark matter and dark energy throughout the Universe.

“This is it”, says Yannick Mellier from IAP, and lead of the Euclid Consortium (EC) selected today by ESA, “ESA and the Euclid Consortium have worked for over 5 years to get to this point and now we are formally adopted to help build this exciting new space mission.” ESA today endorsed a Multilateral Agreement (MLA) between eleven European space agencies, NASA, and the Euclid Consortium, for the construction of key elements of the Euclid satellite, specifically the onboard instruments, software for analysing the data and the satellites scientific leadership.

“We have put together the best team in Europe and the world”, continues Mellier, “we have nearly 1000 scientists involved in our collaboration from across Europe and other parts of the world that have come together to make this happen. We have experts in all aspects of astronomy, physics, satellite and software design.” The EC is the biggest astronomy collaboration ever created and already bigger than the existing ESA Planck and GAIA missions.

“The size of the team shows the immense interest in Euclid science across Europe” comments Luigi Guzzo of Merate, one of the Euclid scientific coordinators, “Euclid is addressing fundamental questions in physics, while also providing a rich and diverse dataset that will enhance all of astronomy. Everyone wants to get their hands of the sharp Hubble-like images across the whole sky, as well as millions of galaxy redshifts”.

The EC will provide two instruments to ESA, a visible imaging instrument, VIS, and a near infrared imaging and spectrograph instrument, NISP. These state-of-the-art instruments, equipped with wide field cameras, will create a huge amount of exceptional quality data over a large fraction of the sky. It will require sophisticated and dedicate computer resources to analyse these data; looking for the signature of dark energy, which is ironically very small even though it makes up 75% of the energy density in the Universe. The Science Ground Segment (SGS), which coordinates the analysis of all this data, includes hundreds of scientists spread throughout all the EC member states and requires a huge effort to organize and integrate. “Euclid is as much a software project as a hardware project” states Marc Sauvage from CEA. “This is a high-precision experiment that will demand exquisite calibrations and measurements on billions of stars galaxies; a challenge in itself”.

Euclid is now an official ESA mission and solidifies the Euclid Consortium at forefront of worldwide research into the “dark universe”.

Euclid Mission

Euclid is an M-class mission and is part of the ESA Cosmic Vision programme 2015-2025. Euclid is a 1.2m space telescope, located at 2nd large Sun-Earth Lagrange point, and will perform two major surveys of the sky over at least 5 years. The wide survey will cover nearly a quarter of the whole sky and is focused on mapping the locations and shapes of billions of galaxies. The deep field will cover a small patch of the sky (approximately 100 time the size of a full moon) but to unprecedented depths seeing the first galaxies that ever formed.

Euclid was formally selected in October 2011 for flight, with the Euclid Consortium adopted to help build Euclid on June 19th 2012. ESA will provide to the Euclid mission the spacecraft (built by industry under contract), the launch on a Soyuz rocket from the Kourou base in Guyana, operations for at least 6 years, and mission archives. The EC will provide the scientific instruments for Euclid (VIS & NISP), the data processing and scientific analysis software and archiving as well as scientific leadership for the mission. The EC is comprises of nearly a 1000 scientists from hundreds of institutions from Austria, Denmark, Italy, Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Swiss and UK, as well as contributions from US laboratories. 

Dark Universe

For nearly 80 years now, astronomers have known about “dark matter”; matter than does not shine or reflect light and can only be detected through its gravitational influence. Scientists still do not know the true physical nature of dark matter, but its existence has been confirmed numerous times over the last few decades. In 1999, astronomers found evidence for an even stranger component to the dark universe, namely “dark energy” that appears to driving the expansion of the Universe faster and faster. This “dark energy” makes up three quarters of the energy budget of the Universe; 3 times the energy associated with dark matter and over 20 times the energy in normal matter like atoms. There are many ideas of what it could be, but so far there is no compelling explanation for the existence and nature of the mysterious substance in the Universe. Astrophysicists believe that the discovery of its very nature will revolutionize fundamental physics and our knowledge of physical laws of nature.

The laboratories joined in the EUCLID consortium are:

  • Astrophysique Instrumentation et Modélisation (Université Paris Diderot /CEA/CNRS)
  • AstroParticules et Cosmologie (Université Paris Diderot / CNRS/CEA)
  • Centre de Physique des Particules de Marseille (Aix-Marseille Université/CNRS)
  • Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris (Université Pierre et Marie Curie/CNRS)
  • Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale (UIniversité Paris-Sud/CNRS)
  • Institut de Physique Nucléaire de Lyon (Université Claude Bernard/CNRS)
  • Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie (Université Paul Sabatier de Toulouse/CNRS)
  • Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille (Aix-Marseille Université/CNRS)
  • Laboratoire Lagrange (Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur/CNRS/Universite de Nice Sophia Antipolis)
  • Centre de Calcul de l’Institut National de Physique Nucléaire et de Physique des Particules

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