SpaceX has launched the Euclid Space Telescope for the European Space Agency on July 1, 2023, at 11:11 am EDT. Euclid will search for evidence of dark matter and dark energy to solve some of the biggest mysteries of the universe.
Dark matter and dark energy cannot be detected directly with current instruments because they do not interact with the light spectrum. However, evidence of their presence can be picked up through their effect on “normal” matter in the area around it. They can impact galaxy mergers, the movement of stars, and the movement of large objects like stars. Some scientists estimate that dark matter makes up 95% of the matter in the universe.
The European Space Agency plans a six-year mission during which Euclid will observe the universe outside the Milky Way Galaxy. It will map a third of the detectable universe and observe the movement and chemical makeup of observable objects.
According to ESA director of science Carole Mundell, Euclid will add to an already robust archive of data from other instruments and telescopes. Even after its mission is over, the data it produces will remain available for scientists who want to use it for their research.
During a press conference, Mundell extended praise to “our science communities who now will work very hard to commission this mission.”
The European Space Agency has been working on the projects that became Euclid for almost two decades. It initially began as two different, yet complementary, methods for searching for dark energy using instruments initially known as Dune (Dark Universe Explorer) and Space (Spectroscopic All Sky Cosmic Explorer). The two methods were eventually merged into the telescope that became Euclid, likely to avoid redundant efforts and save costs. Euclid cost $1.5 billion (1.4 billion Euros).
Euclid will complement other scientific instruments like Gaia, which searches for dark matter within the Milky Way.
Euclid was initially slated to launch on an Arianespace Soyuz. However, that fell through when Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022 and most of Europe responded with strict sanctions against Russia. The ESA became one of several European organizations that needed to find alternative launch services. SpaceX made its shortlist of launch providers in August 2022 and was selected to launch scientific missions that included the Euclid Space Telescope soon afterward.
To be launched, the Euclid Space Telescope had to take a two-week journey by ship from Italy to Florida, where it was launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral. This marks the second launch for the Falcon 9 first stage booster used for the launch. It also marks SpaceX’s 204th successful landing of a first stage booster, adding to its track record of making landing and reusing Falcon 9 booster rockets look easy. (Test launches? Not so easy, but they usually figure it out eventually. Elon Musk certainly remains confident about Starship.)
Now that Euclid has been launched, it will spend the next thirty days maneuvering to its final position in deep space. Scientists have not said when they will get the first scientific images, but hinted that it could be in a few months.