NASA To Join ESA To Study The Dark Side Of The Universe | Out Of This World Weekly

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Euclid mission is designed for launch in 2020 to study some of the least understood aspects of our universe.  Dark Energy and Dark Matter comprise 95% of the universe that we live in, yet very little is known about either one of these things.  Dark Energy makes of about 70% of the universe and is thought to be the major reason that all space everywhere is pushing all the rest of the space away from it, causing an expanding universe.  Dark Matter,  totaling about 25% of the universe is thought to be key to understanding why galaxies form and move the way that they do and how galaxy clusters plus even larger filaments formed after the big bang are able to keep their formations.  Now NASA wants to join in on this mission to explore the universe by contributing about 20 special detectors that are to be used on the Euclid satellite.  NASA will also be adding 40 new members to the Euclid team in addition to the 14 scientists already supporting the mission by developing instruments, managing operations and going over the collected data. 

The Euclid mission will focus on studying far off galaxies in about 1/3rd of the sky, with an even more detailed deep survey of a much smaller portion of the sky.  This 6 year mission with a 1.2m telescope will peer into the universe in the visible and near-infrared spectrum, allowing for some really beautiful pictures of deep space while the infra-red aspects of the mission should help cut through some of the dust that might obscure far off galaxies.  The speed and direction of these galaxies, many of which are millions or billions of light years away, will give important clues as to the development of the universe and the way that both Dark Matter and Dark Energy have affected the universe over time.  With better a understanding of the motions of the galaxies over time, we should be better able to predict both the far future and the earliest stages of the universe.

This mission by the ESA and NASA is planning on taking advantage of Earth’s Lagrange point L2.  This is the location in space where gravitational forces from the Earth and the Sun balance out, allowing the Euclid spacecraft to maintain a position 1.5 million kilometers directly ‘behind’ the Earth as viewed from the Sun.  The location will allow the spacecraft to keep this position relative to the Sun and the Earth without having to expend fuel and allowing it to be far enough from the Earth so that there is no interference with the observations.   There is also no orbiting of the Earth or the Moon, so that the spacecraft will not heat up and cool down from passing through the shadows of either the Earth or the Moon.  These shadows can cause the spacecraft to heat up and cool down, which directly affects the distortion of the view. 

With NASA’s shrinking budget, collaborations between NASA and other space agencies may become more common.   NASA has already had their flagship missions cut back from every 5 to 10 years to every 20 to 30 years.  With this budget reality, the only way NASA can get in on new projects is to help out other friendly space agencies like the ESA.  While cooperation can be good, it isn’t good for the prestige of the American space programs which lead most, if not all other nations on the globe.  At least NASA is continuing to try to advance our knowledge of the universe in any way that it can to uncover one of the most persistent mysteries of science in existence today. 

It is impossible to say how greater knowledge of Dark Matter and Dark Energy will advance our technology.  It is quite possible that understanding of these extremely common and fundamental things could give rise to inventions that we cannot even imagine.  Consider that electricity was around for an extremely long time before we learned how to understand and harness it, yet today many of us simply couldn’t live without it.  While the Euclid mission may only be one of the first steps to understanding Dark Energy and Dark Matter, it is an important step that must be taken.  Not only will it directly advance our knowledge of the universe but it may give us scientific data that we can use for a variety of other purposes. 

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