06 Oct 2011

Open University joins European space search for dark matter

The Open University is one of nine UK universities involved in a European Space Agency mission to search for dark energy.

The mission, called Euclid, was selected yesterday by the European Space Agency and will comprise one of the largest telescopes in space when it is launched. The mission will take precise measurements of galaxy distortions in its search for dark energy and dark matter, which is believed to make up much of the matter of the Universe.

It is widely thought that dark energy and dark matter dominate the ordinary matter of stars and planets. Euclid will effectively look back in time approximately 10 billion years, when dark energy appears to have accelerated the expansion of the Universe, and capture the light from distant galaxies to map their distribution and show the dark energy and matter that is thought to make up the Universe.

Andrew Holland, Professor of Electro-Optics at The Open University, explained: “The OU is providing expertise on the use of the imaging sensors (CCDs), and in particular their behaviour under the damaging influence of space radiation, which is mainly in the form of protons from the sun. A detailed and thorough understanding of the behaviour of the Euclid space telescope under all possible conditions is vital to enable extraction of the scientific measurements from the data. Our team will contribute to this understanding through detailed measurements and simulations of the effects.”

As well as its involvement in the instrumentation part of the mission, The Open University will lead part of the UK data analysis of the European Space Agency mission, contributing particularly to the planning for Euclid's premier deep field surveys.

Stephen Serjeant, Head of the Astronomy discipline at the Open University, said: "Euclid's images will be much finer than is possible from ground-based observatories under the Earth's turbulent atmosphere. Euclid's image quality will even approach that of the Hubble Space Telescope, yet Euclid will map half the entire sky. Its deep cosmological imaging will also be a major leap forward from Hubble Space Telescope surveys. In all, the legacy value and scope for new discoveries in Euclid's exquisite and enormous data set will be tremendous."


Notes to editors
The Euclid mission has to complete its study phase before it can be fully adopted in June 2012. The Euclid mission is part of the European Space Agency’s Cosmic Vision programme, and was originally selected from more than 50 missions.

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