UNIVERSITY of Portsmouth cosmologists are celebrating approval of a major new space mission that could shed light on the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy.
The Euclid satellite will launch one of the largest optical digital cameras into space by 2020 to take pictures more than 100 times larger than the Hubble space telescope.
Each frame is the equivalent clarity of about 300 high-definition TV screens and the camera could capture half the sky in six years.
It is hoped this data could help analyse the nature of dark matter – which exerts a massive gravitational pull – and the dark energy believed to be behind the universe’s accelerated expansion.
Prof Bob Nicol, one of three members of the university’s institute of cosmology and gravitation involved in the project, explained: ‘Euclid will effectively look back in time approximately 10 billion years, covering the period over which dark energy seems to have accelerated the expansion of the universe.
‘It will also capture the light from distant galaxies to reveal the underlying “dark” architecture of the cosmos.’
The project – worth tens of millions of Euros – is one of just two European Space Agency missions that were given the green light. News of its successful bid fell on the same day scientists won the Nobel Prize for dark energy.
Prof Nicol said: ‘The Nobel Prize in the morning and the announcement about Euclid later that day was like having all my birthdays at once!
‘We know dark matter is out there but we have no idea what it actually is. There are more theories about this than there are scientists in the world!
‘Will Euclid answer the dark energy problem? I hope so. But one key thing it will allow us to do is see how things are growing in the universe.’
Prof Nicol said current estimations of the rate of acceleration of the universe’s expansion and when it began are to the nearest 10 per cent, but that Euclid would be able to narrow it down to one.