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Johns Hopkins astrophysicists to help solve universe`s `dark` mysteries

Brice Menard and Charles L. Bennett of Johns Hopkins will join the mission, led by The European Space Agency (ESA), which is scheduled to launch in 2020.

Washington: Two Johns Hopkins astrophysicists have been appointed to the Euclid Consortium, the international team of scientists overseeing an ambitious space telescope project designed to probe the mysteries of dark energy and dark matter.

Brice Menard and Charles L. Bennett of Johns Hopkins will join the mission, led by The European Space Agency (ESA), which is scheduled to launch in 2020.

NASA, a partner in the mission, recently announced their selection to the research team for Euclid.

A recent announcement about the ESA-NASA partnership stated that Euclid`s telescope and scientific instruments "will map the shape, brightness and 3D distribution of two billion galaxies covering more than a third of the whole sky and looking back over three-quarters of the history of the universe."

"Euclid`s observations will produce a flood of data and will enable an impressive range of investigations," said Menard, a Johns Hopkins assistant professor of physics and astronomy.

"This space telescope will be capable of mapping out a large fraction of the sky. It will provide us with detailed observations of more than a billion galaxies. It`s going to provide a gigantic new dataset. What we need to do now is to come up with strategies for analyzing that much material," he added.

The agencies hope this mapping process will yield important new information about the behavior of dark matter and dark energy. In gathering such data, Bennett said, "We`re trying to learn about the evolution of the universe and fundamental physics. We want to know more about what the universe is made of and how it is changing."

Dark matter and dark energy are now known to be major ingredients in the makeup of the universe.

NASA`s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) space mission, led by Bennett, recently determined that the universe is composed of 4.63 (plus or minus 0.24) percent atoms, 23.3 (plus or minus 2.3) percent dark matter and 72.1 (plus or minus 2.5) percent dark energy. Remarkably, several other measurements are consistent, and when data are combined improve the precision.

However, the identity of the dark matter particles remains a mystery and scientists do not yet understand how dark energy changes with time or how it affects the evolution of the universe. The nature of dark energy has become one of the most fundamental questions in physics today, and scientists hope the upcoming space mission will help provide answers.

"Indeed," said Bennett, "what we call dark energy could be an indication of a failure of Einstein`s theory of gravity, one of the bedrock theories of physics."

"Euclid`s observations will push the exploration of the universe to new limits. Together with European colleagues, Brice and I will begin a multi-year process that could revolutionize our view of the cosmos," he added.


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