A Map of the Heavens: Will the ESA’s Launch Explain Universe Expansion?

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Euclid space telescope launches on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida on July 1, 2023.
GREGG NEWTON/AFP via Getty Images

A Map of the Heavens: Will the ESA’s Launch Explain Universe Expansion?

The European Space Agency launched its Euclid spacecraft from Florida on July 1 on a SpaceX rocket. The purpose of the mission is to study why the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate.

The spacecraft is 15.4 feet tall and 12.1 feet in diameter. It has two main parts: the service module, which contains the satellite systems, and the payload module, which consists of a 3.9 foot telescope, a visible wavelength camera and a near-infrared camera/spectrometer.

Euclid will circle the Sun-Earth Lagrange 2 point, the same orbit the James Webb Space Telescope uses. At nearly 1 million miles from Earth, Euclid will keep pace with the Earth’s orbit around the sun. The six-year mission will produce images that are at least four times sharper than ground-based telescopes.

Mysterious Forces

Euclid’s goal is to make a 3-D map of several billion galaxies by observing over a third of the entire sky, charting objects up to 10 billion light-years away. This detailed map of the heavens will help astronomers study how the universe is expanding. By measuring the average space between these galaxies, astronomers are looking at the universe as it was billions of years ago, allowing them to better track how dark matter and dark energy’s effects on the structure and expansion of the universe have changed over time.

What are dark matter and dark energy? Scientists don’t actually know. These are terms assigned to the mysterious forces that govern the universe: Dark matter slows down the expansion of the universe, and dark energy speeds it up.

The term “dark matter” was coined in 1933 after Swiss astronomer Fritz Zwicky of the California Institute of Technology measured the mass of a cluster of galaxies. He discovered the cluster was too small to stop the galaxies from escaping its gravitational pull. Something that emitted no electromagnetic radiation, and was therefore invisible, must have been holding it together. They called this force “dark matter.”

“Dark energy” was coined a few decades later. Currently, the universe is not only expanding, but the rate of expansion is increasing. It was widely believed as recently as the 1990s that all of the gravitational pulls within the universe meant an inevitable slowing of that expansion.

Theoretically, energy density would even reverse the expansion altogether and the universe would collapse in on itself, a conjecture called the Big Crunch. Yet after its launch in 1990, Hubble revealed that the expansion of the universe is speeding up. No one could explain this, so they called the mysterious force “dark energy.”

Astronomers believe that these two forces make up 95 percent of the universe. That is a lot of empty space that scientists know very little about.

A Different Map

The Euclid telescope will begin sending data back in a few months. For as much as this map of the cosmos will reveal, it will likely create more questions than answers. These missions almost always do.

However, there is a map we can look to that could shed some light on these dark forces. This map has been around far longer than any space-based telescope. It wasn’t produced by scientific instruments or by observing celestial bodies. It was given by divine inspiration. This map is God’s Word.

The Bible has a lot to say about the heavens. Job 38:19-20 state, “[T]ell me about the darkness. Where does it come from? Can you find its boundaries, or go to its source?” (Living Bible). Could this be referring to dark matter? Romans 1:20 states, “[T]he invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made ….”

Trumpet managing editor Joel Hilliker writes in Our Awesome Universe Potential: “The visible universe shows that there must be this invisible matter or force holding it all together. We can see the invisible power of God by seeing the visible. Perhaps ‘dark matter’ is actually the invisible power of God holding the universe together.”

Though there is still much about the universe to be revealed, verses like these give insight that modern technologies cannot. There is a God who is currently holding together and expanding the universe. Why? For what purpose does the vast cosmos exist? The answer will inspire you like nothing else.

Astronomers can’t define what makes up 95 percent of our universe, let alone the reason for its existence. The Bible reveals that purpose. With all of the evils in this world, you need this hope. To unlock the inspiring purpose for the universe and your role in it, request a free copy of our booklet Our Awesome Universe Potential.