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Breaking the ice: how scientists are trying to defrost Euclid’s vision from a million miles away


Euclid, charged with revealing the secrets of the dark Universe, encountered an obstacle: microscopic layers of frozen water blur his vision. This challenge, arising from the spacecraft’s exposure to the intense cold of space, requires unprecedented precision for the success of its mission.
Mirror, mirror, cooled in space
Efforts are currently underway across Europe to implement a new defrosting procedure designed to restore Euclid’s clarity and maintain its optical systems for the duration of its orbital life. In the same way that drivers remove ice from their car windshields in winter, the European Space Agency (ESA) scientists are embarking on a unique mission to “defrost” the mirrors of the Earth’s telescope. Euclid Observatory, located more than a million kilometers from Earth. These layers of ice, although as thick as a strand of DNA, led to “a slight but gradual decrease” in the detection of light from stars, as the ESA noted in a recent announcement.
Tackling the Fog: Euclid’s Diminishing Vision
As Euclid began his celestial journey, experts noted a slight but gradual dimming of starlight captured by the visible instrument (VIS). Mischa Schirmer, a central figure behind the new defrosting strategy, observed: “Some stars in the Universe vary in brightness, but the majority are stable for several million years. So when our instruments detected a slight gradual decline in brightness, photons coming in, we knew it wasn’t them, it was us. » This awareness triggered a meticulous investigation into the unwanted accumulation of water, leading to the development of a targeted response.
The current phase of the mission involves carefully heating areas of the spacecraft deemed low risk, where the release of water poses minimal risk to other instruments. “Defrosting should restore and preserve Euclid’s ability to collect light from these ancient galaxies, but this is the first time we have performed this procedure,” admitted Euclid scientist Reiko Nakajima, emphasizing the pioneering nature of this operation.
Developing the Countermeasure: A Strategic Approach to Deicing
Collaborative efforts led by dedicated Euclid teams across Europe, including information from ESA’s ESTEC and coordination by Ralf Kohley, result in a sophisticated anti-ice plan. The strategy involves careful heating of specific spacecraft components to avoid compromising Euclid’s delicate optical alignment. “Turning on the payload module heaters must therefore be carried out with extreme caution,” explains Andreas Rudolph, emphasizing the unique thermo-optical stability requirements of the mission.
Euclid stands the test of time: the long-term defrosting strategy
Recognizing that water will continue to seep into Euclid’s systems, mission teams designed a sustainable approach to periodically clear the ice without disrupting the mission’s critical schedule. Reiko Nakajima underlines the importance of this procedure for Euclid’s primary mission: to map the Universe and probe the mysteries of gravitational lensing. Teams are prepared to identify and determine the location of the ice, with the goal of ensuring Euclid’s enduring ability to observe distant galaxies and contribute to our cosmic understanding.


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