Euclid telescope successfully launched into space

July 01, 2023

The ESA space telescope Euclid, with significant contributions by the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE) in Garching, was launched into space today, 1 July 2023 at 17:12 CEST on a Falcon 9 rocket by the US space company SpaceX. Once it arrives at its destination, the Lagrange Point 2 (L2) of Earth-Sun system, it will observe over a third of the entire sky for at least six years, mapping the spatial distribution of billions of galaxies and measuring their properties. Analysing this data, the six German institutes in the international Euclid consortium hope understand better, how Dark Matter and Dark Energy influence the structure of the universe.

“All those involved, scientists, engineers and in particular the co-founders of the mission at MPE, are excited that Euclid has now been successfully launched after 15 years of preparation and construction,” Prof. Ralf Bender (MPE/LMU) is pleased to say. “Europe can now take a leading role in researching Dark Matter and Dark Energy.” MPE is one of the six German research institutes involved in Euclid and contributed key components.

The dark side of the cosmos

Euclid will systematically investigate the influence of Dark Matter and Dark Energy on the evolution and large-scale structure of the universe for the first time. These two largely unknown and invisible components make up 95 per cent of the cosmos. Dark Matter determines the gravitational effects between and within galaxies, and initially caused the expansion of the universe to slow down; Dark Energy is responsible for the current accelerated expansion of the universe. Jochen Weller (LMU/MPE) is enthusiastic: “Euclid will allow us to test Einstein's theory of gravity at large distances and – who knows – we might have to expand his theory.”

Almost exactly ten years after the European Space Agency (ESA) officially selected this space mission (with contributions from NASA) for realisation, hundreds of scientists from the Euclid Consortium around the world are now eagerly awaiting the telescope's arrival at the Lagrange Point 2 (L2) of the Earth-Sun system. Scientific observations there will begin in early 2024. The space telescope is named after the famous mathematician Euclid of Alexandria, who was probably active in the 3rd century BC.

Worldwide cooperation

The consortium brings together scientists and engineers from 17 countries, mainly from Europe, but also from the USA, Canada and Japan. It is responsible for the development and construction of the measuring instruments, for the collection of all complementary data on the ground, for the development of the survey strategy and the data processing pipeline to produce all calibrated images and catalogues, and for the scientific quality of the data. It is managed by the Institut d'astrophysique de Paris in France. The companies Thales Alenia Space and Airbus (formerly Astrium) are responsible for the construction of the telescope, whose main mirror has a diameter of 1.2 metres.

In Germany, the Euclid mission was jointly initiated and developed by the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA) in Heidelberg, the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE) in Garching, the Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU) in Munich and the University of Bonn (UB) with the support of the German Space Agency at the German Aerospace Center (DLR). Euclid founding members Ralf Bender (LMU/MPE), Hans-Walter Rix (MPIA), Peter Schneider (UB) and Jochen Weller (LMU/MPE) were involved in key positions. In 2018, the Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) joined.

“We are all very happy about the successful start,” says a delighted Hans-Walter Rix (MPIA). “Now we have many years of intensive work with exciting results ahead of us. We hope that we will eventually have a much improved view of the universe.”

Special optics

The MPE and MPIA have contributed crucial elements to Euclid’s optics. Another co-founder of the mission, Dr Roberto Saglia (MPE/LMU) as well as Dr Ariel Sanchez (MPE) have also contributed significantly to the scientific preparation of the mission and will take central positions in the analysis of the Euclid data. The MPE also operates the German Euclid Science Data Center under the direction of Dr. Maximilian Fabricius.

In addition to the scientific questions that Euclid investigates, its technology is also cutting-edge. Frank Grupp (MPE/LMU), another co-founder of the mission, emphasises: “At MPE, we worked with industry to develop and test the largest optical lens systems ever used for a scientific space mission. This was a real challenge and we are very grateful for the support the German Space Agency provided for this extraordinary mission.” The German Space Agency at DLR coordinates the ESA contributions and provides funding of €60 million from the National Space Programme for the German research institutes involved.

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