Euclid space telescope successfully launched into space
German research institutes participating at the forefront of dark matter and dark energy research
The European Space Agency's Euclid space telescope was launched into space today at 17:11 CEST on a Falcon 9 rocket from the U.S. space company SpaceX. From its destination, the Lagrange Point 2 (L2) of the Earth and Sun, it will observe over a third of the entire sky for at least six years and map the spatial distribution of several billion galaxies. The data obtained will provide information about the influence of dark matter and dark energy on the structure of the Universe. With six research institutes, Germany is strongly involved in the international Euclid Consortium. Among them is the Argelander Institute for Astronomy (AIfA) at the University of Bonn.
“We are absolutely thrilled because Euclid represents a quantum leap in humankind’s ability to study the origin and evolution of the Universe,” says Joseph Mohr from Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU) in Munich. LMU is one of the six German research institutes involved in Euclid and contributed vital components. For the first time, Euclid will systematically investigate the influence of dark matter and dark energy on the evolution and large-scale structure of the Universe. These largely unknown and invisible components of the Universe together account for 95 per cent of the cosmos. While dark matter determines gravity effects between and within galaxies and initially caused the expansion of the Universe to slow down, dark energy is responsible for the current accelerated growth of the Universe. Jochen Weller (LMU/MPE) is enthusiastic: “Euclid will enable us to test Einstein’s theory of gravity at large distances, and who knows – maybe we need to extend his theory.”
Eleven years of preparation
Euclid is a space mission of the European Space Agency (ESA) with contributions from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Almost exactly eleven years after ESA officially adopted this programme, hundreds of Euclid Consortium scientists (https://www.euclid-ec.org) around the world are now eagerly awaiting the telescope’s arrival at the Lagrange Point 2 (L2) of the Earth and Sun, from where it will begin scientific observations in autumn 2023. This location in space at about four times the distance to the Moon follows Earth in its yearly orbit around the Sun and stands out due to its exceptionally stable observing conditions. The space telescope is named after the famous mathematician Euclid of Alexandria, who supposedly lived and worked during the 3rd century BC.
The consortium brings together scientists and engineers from 17 countries, many from Europe, but also from the USA, Canada and Japan. It is responsible for the development and construction of the instrumentation, 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 use 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 constructing the telescope, whose primary mirror has a diameter of 1.2 metres.
German consortium with participation from Bonn
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 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 (Uni Bonn) and Jochen Weller (LMU/MPE) were involved in key positions. The Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) joined in 2018.
MPE and MPIA contributed key components to Euclid’s optics. MPE operates the German Euclid Science Data Center; MPIA, LMU, Uni Bonn, and RUB developed essential software elements for calibrating and analysing Euclid data. “To determine the distribution of matter in space, researchers have to measure the distance of all galaxies to Earth,” explains Hendrik Hildebrandt (RUB). “This is done by combining satellite data from Euclid with data from ground-based telescopes.”
Large number of publications expected
The UB hosts the Euclid Publication Office, where the scientific publications of the Euclid Consortium are coordinated and reviewed. The Bonn astronomy professor Peter Schneider is certain: “We expect a very large number of ground-breaking publications, not only in cosmology but in almost all research areas of astrophysics.”
The Argelander Institute for Astronomy (AIfA) at Uni Bonn is additionally contributing to central aspects of the scientific analysis of the mission. “One of the crucial requirements for the scientific success of Euclid is an extremely precise measurement of the shapes of about two billion distant galaxies”, emphasizes Ole Marggraf. Reiko Nakajima, responsible for the data quality of one of the two instruments of Euclid, is excited about the expected vast yield of scientific data: “Never before have astronomical images been taken in space with a camera this large.” In total, about 20 scientists at the AIfA are participating in the Euclid project.
In addition to the scientific questions Euclid investigates, the technology used is also cutting-edge. Frank Grupp (MPE/LMU) underlines: “Euclid contains the largest optical lenses ever developed for a scientific space mission. It was a real challenge, and we are very grateful for the support of the German Space Agency at DLR for this extraordinary mission.” The German Space Agency at DLR coordinates the German ESA contributions and provides funding of 60 million euros from the National Space Programme for the participating German research institutes.
“We are all very happy about the successful launch,” says Hans-Walter Rix (MPIA). “Now we have many years of intensive work with exciting results ahead of us. We hope we will eventually have a significantly improved view of the Universe.”
Euclid Press Launch Kit
Euclid is the second M-class mission from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) ‘Cosmic Vision’ programme. Germany is the largest contributor to the ESA science programme, covering around 21 per cent of the mission.
Dr. Markus Nielbock
National Coordination for Communication und Press
Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg
Tel. +49 6221 528-134
Prof. Dr. Peter Schneider
Argelander Institute for Astronomy
University of Bonn
Tel: +49 228 73-3671
Press contacts of the Euclid Consortium