Space Mission: ESA’s Euclid Telescope

To follow up on the previous post, Russia also lost out on launching the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Euclid spacecraft. Russia was supposed to launch it on a Soyuz-ST/Fregat rocket this December, but the country’s invasion of Ukraine led to a change in plans. SpaceX will now be launching the spacecraft next year.

Euclid was designed to study dark energy and dark matter, and make a 3D-map of the Universe. The project includes scientists from 14 countries: Austria, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, Portugal, Romania, the UK, and the US.

Euclid hopes to answer the following questions:

  • How did the Universe originate? What were the conditions just after the Big Bang, and how did these give rise to the large-scale structures we see today?
  • Why is the Universe expanding at an accelerating rate today?
  • Is dark energy – a term often used to signify the mysterious force behind this cosmic acceleration – real? If so, is it a constant energy density intrinsic to and spread throughout space, or a new force of nature that slowly evolves as the Universe expands?
  • What is the nature of dark matter, and how do neutrinos possibly contribute? Are there other as-yet-undetected massive particles in the Universe?

Once launched, Euclid will operate in the Sun-Earth Lagrange point 2 (L2), which is where the James Webb Space Telescope is located as well as ESA’s Gaia spacecraft. Gaia, launched in December 2013, is currently mapping the stars in the Milky Way galaxy. It seems L2 is the place to be.

NASA is contributing infrared flight detectors for one of Euclid’s two science instruments. You can read more about the NASA contribution here.

Has Russia Lost its Space Mojo?

Image (Credit): Russia’s Progress 76 resupply ship approaching the ISS in July 2020. (NASA)

Marina Koren’s article in The Atlantic, titled “The Russian Space Program Is Falling Back to Earth,” has plenty to say about the state of Russia’s space program. Her assessment is pretty bleak outside of the continued collaboration related to the International Space Station (ISS).

She notes:

Beyond the ISS, though, Russia’s space portfolio isn’t all that grandiose these days. Although cosmonauts fly into orbit regularly, Russia does not have a rover on the far side of the moon, as China has, or orbiters around Mars, as India and the United Arab Emirates have. It does not have a fleet of space telescopes like the U.S has. The Soviet Union was the first to send a human being to space, decades ago, and its early accomplishments are a distinct point of national pride. But the Russian space program has stalled for years, plagued by sparse budgets. And that was before Vladimir Putin’s onslaught on Ukraine: Some of the space plans the country still had in the works are falling apart. Now the Russian space effort may be more adrift than ever.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine may be the last straw. It led to the cancellation of various collaborative space projects with other nations. For instance, back in March the European Space Agency (ESA) was forced to suspend its joint ESA/Roscosmos ExoMars Rover mission to Mars.

China seems to be pulling ahead of Russia in the space race, with Russia taking a back seat on future projects, such as a Moon base or new space station. On the ground, Russia has shown it is not up to a war with Ukraine, making its role as a military power questionable. The article notes that Russia’s status as a space power is now also in question.

And shooting down another nation’s satellites will not be seen as a sign of strength in either the military or space arena.

A Day in Astronomy: Visit to Asteroid Gaspra

Image (Credit): Asteroid Gaspra in the asteroid belt, visited by the Galileo spacecraft on its way to Jupiter. (NASA/JPL/USGS)

On this day in 1991, NASA’s Galileo spacecraft flew by asteroid Gaspra, which is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Galileo conducted a quick fly-by while flying towards Jupiter and its moons. The spacecraft also visited the asteroid Ida.

Asteroid Gasprawas first discovered back in 1916 by Russian astronomer G. N. Neujmin, who decided to name it after the Black Sea retreat of Gaspra, a Ukrainian spa town currently occupied by the Russians.

Here is some additional information from NASA about the asteroid, which has similar features to the asteroids now serving as moons to Mars (Phobos and Deimos):

A striking feature of Gaspra’s surface is the abundance of small craters. More than 600 craters, 100-500 meters (330-1650 feet) in diameter are visible here. The number of such small craters compared to larger ones is much greater for Gaspra than for previously studied bodies of comparable size such as the satellites of Mars. Gaspra’s very irregular shape suggests that the asteroid was derived from a larger body by nearly catastrophic collisions. Consistent with such a history is the prominence of groove-like linear features, believed to be related to fractures. These linear depressions, 100-300 meters wide and tens of meters deep, are in two crossing groups with slightly different morphology, one group wider and more pitted than the other. Grooves had previously been seen only on Mars’s moon Phobos, but were predicted for asteroids as well.

You car read more about the overall Galileo mission here.

Image (Credit): Artist’s rendering of the Galileo spacecraft arriving at Jupiter. (NASA)

Space Quote: Starlink Threatened by the Russians

Image (Credit): November 13, 2021 SpaceX launch of 53 Starlink satellites. (SpaceX)

“Quasi-civilian infrastructure may be a legitimate target for a retaliatory strike.”

-Statement to the United Nations by Russian senior foreign ministry official Konstantin Vorontsov in reference to attacking SpaceX’s Starlink satellites being used by the Ukrainian military as it pushes back the Russian invasion. In a Reuters article, “Russia’s Anti-satellite Threat Tests Laws of War in Space,” Iridium chief executive Matt Desch stated, “If somebody starts shooting satellites in space, I’d imagine it would quickly make space unusable.”

Pic of the Week: Webb’s First Deep Field

Image (Credit): JWST deep field view of the cosmos. (NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI)

This week we have another recent image from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) showing a thousands of galaxies, some of which have images distorted by the gravity of other galaxies. It is quite a collection of distant worlds.

Here is the story from NASA:

Thousands of galaxies flood this near-infrared image of galaxy cluster SMACS 0723. High-resolution imaging from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope combined with a natural effect known as gravitational lensing made this finely detailed image possible.

First, focus on the galaxies responsible for the lensing: the bright white elliptical galaxy at the center of the image and smaller white galaxies throughout the image. Bound together by gravity in a galaxy cluster, they are bending the light from galaxies that appear in the vast distances behind them. The combined mass of the galaxies and dark matter act as a cosmic telescope, creating magnified, contorted, and sometimes mirrored images of individual galaxies.

Clear examples of mirroring are found in the prominent orange arcs to the left and right of the brightest cluster galaxy. These are lensed galaxies – each individual galaxy is shown twice in one arc. Webb’s image has fully revealed their bright cores, which are filled with stars, along with orange star clusters along their edges.

Not all galaxies in this field are mirrored – some are stretched. Others appear scattered by interactions with other galaxies, leaving trails of stars behind them.