Illuminating the dark: Ahead with the Euclid mission

June 20, 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.

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."

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.
-end-
For further information, please contact:

Madeleine Russell
Press Officer
UK Space Agency
Email: madeleine.russell@ukspaceagency.bis.gsi.gov.uk
Tel: +44 (0)1793 418069

Bob Nichol
Euclid Consortium Communications Lead
ICG, University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth, UK
Email: bob.nichol@port.ac.uk
Tel: +44 (0)23 9284 3117
Mobile: +44 (0)7963792049

Yannick Mellier
Euclid Consortium Lead
Institut d'Astrophysique de Paris, Paris, France
Email: mellier@iap.fr
Phone: +33 1 44 32 81 40.

Images

Artist's impression of Euclid Credit : ESA

Notes to Editors:

Euclid Mission


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 40% of the whole sky and is focused on mapping the locations and shapes of billions of galaxies. The Euclid deep field will cover a patch of the sky approximately 100 times the size of the full Moon (or 15,000 times larger than the Hubble Ultra Deep Field), to unprecedented depths. The combination of depth and sky coverage will enable Euclid to detect very rare sources such as extremely high redshift quasars, and potentially the first galaxies that ever formed.

Euclid Consortium

Euclid was formally selected in October 2011 for flight, with the Euclid Consortium adopted to help build Euclid on June 20th 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 Euclid Consortium 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 Consortium is comprised of nearly a 1000 scientists from hundreds of institutions in Austria, Denmark, Italy, Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Switzerland and UK, as well as contributions from US laboratories.

UK Space Agency

The UK Space Agency is at the heart of UK efforts to explore and benefit from space. It is responsible for all strategic decisions on the UK civil space programme and provides a clear, single voice for UK space ambitions. The UK Space Agency is responsible for ensuring that the UK retains and grows a strategic capability in the space-based systems, technologies, science and applications. It leads the UK's civil space programme in order to win sustainable economic growth, secure new scientific knowledge and provide benefits to all citizens.

The UK Space Agency: 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 be driving the expansion of the Universe faster and faster. This "dark energy" makes up three quarters of the energy budget of the Universe; three 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 nature of this mysterious substance in the Universe. Astrophysicists believe that the discovery of its very nature will revolutionize fundamental physics and our knowledge of the physical laws of nature.

Cosmic Vision

Cosmic Vision is ESA's long term space science programme and is designed to undertake frontier scientific research. The UK Space Agency, through its subscription to the mandatory Science Programme and its investment in building and operating the science payloads on the ESA spacecraft ensures that the UK's scientific community has access to world class space missions. Euclid and Solar Orbiter are the two medium (M-class) missions selected for ESA's Cosmic Vision programme 2015-2025.

For further information on the official adoption of Euclid by ESA please visit: http://www.esa.int/esaCP/SEMZS3BXH3H_index_0.html

For the press release on the recent funding for Solar Orbiter please visit: http://www.bis.gov.uk/ukspaceagency

UK Space Agency

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