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Illuminating the dark: Ahead with the Euclid mission

21 Jun 2012


UK teams working on the mission to study the “dark Universe” are being granted a planned £8.5M by the UK Space Agency to develop scientific instruments. This is following the formal adoption of the largest collaboration of astronomers in the world by the European Space Agency (ESA) to help build the Euclid satellite.


Artist impression of Euclid. Credit: ESA – C. Carreau. (JPG, 32 Kb) 
Artist impression of Euclid.
Credit: ESA – C. Carreau.

This is the final phase in the selection of Euclid as part of ESA’s “Cosmic Vision” programme also strongly funded by the UK Space Agency. An army of physicists and engineers have been set in motion to build and fly this new mission by the end of this decade. Euclid will study the enigmatic dark matter and dark energy with great precision, tracing its distribution and evolution throughout the Universe.

The additional investment by the UK Space Agency has been awarded to the eight UK institutions involved in Euclid that will be part of an international collaboration of nearly a thousand scientists. The Euclid Consortium is the biggest astronomy collaboration ever created and is already bigger than the existing ESA Planck and GAIA missions. The £8.5M will support the UK teams in their lead roles in both of the instruments over the next 5 years (subject to confirmation following the next Spending Review).

The Euclid Consortium will provide two instruments to ESA. UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory is leading the development of the visible imaging instrument (VIS) and is being supported by more than £5M from the UK Space Agency. The Open University is receiving a grant for its involvement in the near infrared imaging and spectrograph instrument (NISP).

David Parker, Director of Technology, Science and Exploration at the UK Space Agency said:

“This is a huge mission – from the importance of the data Euclid will collect to the size of the team involved in putting it into space. The UK is playing a considerable part in both of the instruments and the Science Ground Segment. It is a fantastic example of the leadership of our scientists and facilities. At the heart of the mission is one of the billion pound questions of physics and the UK Space Agency is proud to be funding the teams that are working to unlock some of the great mysteries of the Universe.“

Artist impression of Euclid. Credit: ESA – C. Carreau.

These state-of-the-art instruments, equipped with wide-field cameras, will create a huge amount of exceptional quality data over a large percentage of the sky. It will require sophisticated computer resources dedicated to analysing this data; looking for the miniscule signature of dark energy, which is difficult to locate even though dark energy is thought to make up 75% of the energy density in the Universe.

To enable this analysis, the UK Space Agency is also funding the UK's contribution to the programme’s Science Ground Segment (SGS). This is being developed through a consortium of institutes comprising Edinburgh (lead), UCL, MSSL, Portsmouth, Oxford, Durham, Hertfordshire and Cambridge. The SGS will coordinate all Euclid data, and include hundreds of scientists at institutions across Europe.

Bob Nichol, Euclid Consortium Communications Lead at the University of Portsmouth said:

"This is great for UK astrophysics, really puts us at the forefront of this fundamental science alongside our European colleagues. We have key roles in building the eyes of Euclid and analysing its data to see the signatures of the dark energy and dark matter. We've all worked so hard for this day!"

In 2007 several mission concepts were selected for studies in response to a competitive call by ESA for ‘Medium’ class missions to occupy the first two launch slots in the Cosmic Vision plan. Euclid is now an official ESA mission and solidifies the Euclid Consortium at forefront of worldwide research into the “Dark Universe”. Demonstrating its commitment to world-class science, the UK Space Agency has now confirmed major contributions to both of ESA's new science missions, Solar Orbiter and Euclid.

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