Exploring the composition and evolution of the dark Universe – one of the greatest mysteries of the cosmos – is the ambitious task of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Euclid satellite, launched into space last July.
Italy plays a leading role in the ESA mission – named in honour of the great Greek mathematician and philosopher who revolutionized the measurement of space – through the Italian Space Agency (ASI), the National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) and the National Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN), involving over two hundred Italian scientists from INAF, INFN and the universities of Bologna, Ferrara, Genoa, Milan, Roma Tre, Trieste, SISSA and CISAS.
The ESA satellite hosts a 1.2-metre-diameter reflecting telescope and two scientific instruments, the Visible Instrument (VIS) and the Near Infrared Spectrometer Photometer (NISP). Thanks to its advanced technology, Euclid will create the largest, most accurate 3D map of the Universe by observing billions of galaxies out to 10 billion light-years, across more than a third of the sky. This map will help understand how the Universe has expanded and how its large-scale structure has evolved over cosmic history, providing information about the role of gravity and the nature of dark energy and dark matter.
“The Euclid mission ushers in a new era in cosmology,” said Marco Tavani, President of the National Institute for Astrophysics. “It is unsettling to think that 95% of our Universe continues to elude us, despite the enormous breakthroughs that have been made over the past decades in understanding the cosmos. What is the mysterious dark matter which holds all cosmic structures together and is about five times more abundant than visible matter? And what about dark energy, even more elusive, which drives the current accelerated expansion of the cosmos? These are the fascinating questions that Euclid, an incredible European space mission, in which Italy is one of the key participants, will address. Our country is responsible for about a quarter of all the effort required to build and operate the satellite and to exploit the mission’s scientific results,” the INAF president concluded.