University scientists are helping design and launch a satellite that will map more of the Universe than ever before.
The satellite, known as Euclid, will follow on from the Hubble telescope, launched by NASA in 1990.
The Hubble broke new ground in space observation and led to many discoveries in our knowledge and understanding of physics.
Physicists from the Institute for Astronomy have a key role in creating Euclid, which will record images of 75% of the Universe, or 1.5 billion galaxies.
This will paint a picture of how the stars, planets and other objects have evolved in the past 10 billion years.
The $1 billion European collaboration is expected to cause a step-change in physics by uncovering evidence that may validate or disprove fundamental theories of the field.
The satellite will be launched into solar orbit, between Earth and Mars.
At the heart of the device will be a 1.2m telescope, one of the largest optical digital cameras put into space.
The camera will produce an image equivalent to the size of almost 300 television screens every 15 minutes.
The launch of the satellite is planned for 2019, following several years of planning and preparation. It will take images in orbit for about six years.
Edinburgh will be responsible for coordinating the UK’s data analysis, which will be led by Andrew Taylor, Professor of Astrophysics.
Dr Thomas Kitching, a Royal Society Research Fellow, is one of four European leaders in the Euclid Science Group.
Euclid is a wonderful step for European and UK science.
Euclid scientists will seek to make new discoveries about dark matter, which has mass but cannot be seen, and dark energy, a force or particle that is believed to play a role in the accelerating expansion of the Universe.
Together, dark matter and energy account for more than 90% of the Universe, but are little understood.
Euclid will track the effects of dark energy, dark matter and gravity on the expansion and growth of stars, planets and other objects in the Universe over the past 10 billion years.
Euclid will image the sky with the same quality and depth as the hugely successful Hubble Space Telescope but over an area of sky thousands of times larger.
Researchers at the UK Euclid Science Data Centre, based at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, will study the images from the satellite.
They will analyse the shots by accounting for a phenomenon known as gravitational weak lensing, where light bends around objects. Where the objects are invisible, the images appear as light bending around a dark shape.
In this way the satellite will track the signatures of dark energy, dark matter and gravity in the Universe throughout time.
By measuring the apparent shapes and the distribution of galaxies in the Universe, astronomers will seek to understand the nature of dark energy.
They also hope to determine whether the general theory of relativity, famously postulated by Albert Einstein, remains valid.
By imaging the majority of galaxies in our observable Universe, we hope Euclid will unveil the mysteries of dark energy and gravity, revolutionising physics for decades to come.
Euclid has the backing of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) and forms part of its Cosmic Vision Programme.
The satellite project involves 800 scientists from 110 European institutions.
Funding is being put forward by the ESA, the UK Space Agency and 11 other partners.
ESA is funding the spacecraft, launch and operations. The UK and other national partners - Austria, Denmark, Italy, Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Spain, and Switzerland - will fund the scientific instruments and the analysis.
Euclid involves nine UK partners, which are University College London, the Universities of Cambridge, Durham, Edinburgh, Hertfordshire, Oxford, and Portsmouth, together with the Open University and the UK ATC.
Dark energy and dark matter are two of the biggest problems in cosmology and physics today, and Euclid will bring us much closer to explaining them. Edinburgh has a big part to play in this.
Image credits: NASA/ESA/ESO/W.Freudling