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Our visual reality, the physical world that we think we live in, comprises less than 5 percent of matter. Most of the universe is made up of an unexplained force responsible for its accelerated expansion: dark matter and dark energy. Their other properties are a mystery, which is why scientists would love to find out more. Russian scientists are launching a Proton rocket into space that will spend four years collecting data and hopefully crack the secrets of dark energy, and another three years doing follow-up observations.  

Spektr-RG’s Mission In Space

The rocket called Spektr-RG was supposed to leave on its 4-year journey this June, but has been rescheduled to depart in July. (Spektr-R satellite telescope launched in 2011).

This will be the biggest Russian space mission in the last seven years. The program has roots in old USSR programs, which has been revived in 2005 on a smaller scale.

The Proton rocket was created by Russian and German manufacturers. It will fully scan the sky eight times with X-ray telescopes in order to measure distance and mass of clusters of galaxies in the universe. These clusters will help understand dark energy.

dark energy russian rocket
Spektr-RG X-ray space telescope will be scanning the sky for four years, which scientists hope will bring information about dark energy. IMAGE: Roscosmos

Dark Energy and The Universe’s Expansion

In the 1990s. The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) observed a supernova that showed the universe’s expansion is accelerating. The only theory as to why is dark energy, an unknown force. About 68 percent of the whole universe is dark energy; and we know almost nothing about it.

Albert Einstein was the person scientist to say that what looks like empty space in the cosmos is not nothing, but something of amazing properties if only it was understood. One of his theories on gravity is that there is a cosmological constant, the energy density, which means no matter how much energy is created out of space as the universe expands, it possesses same properties making everything accelerate faster.

A different theory is the quantum theory of matter, saying that “empty space” is filled with temporary particles that will eventually disappear. However, this theory did not add up when tested.

Third explanation is that the dark energy is a type of energy fluid or field that creates the expansion. Yet, that still leaves most questions unanswered of why it exists and does it interact with other matter.

The last explanation is the Einstein was wrong about gravity. Then a new gravity theory is needed to explain how galaxies come together in clusters, and for that new data is needed. Which is exactly what the Russia mission is hoping to achieve.

Spektr-RG will be observing black holes and cosmic structures with clouds of super-hot gas to gain more answers to the dark energy mystery.

“If you have an unbiased look at the whole sky, you have a potential for detections. We don’t know what we will see in the end,” said  Peter Predehl, the head of the science team at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (the institute that designed the telescope).

“We designed the instrument for a specific reason, and this is in order to detect 100,000 clusters of galaxies, and that goes into the direction of (studying) dark energy.”

Sources:
https://spaceflightnow.com/2019/06/20/russia-to-launch-mission-probing-dark-energy
https://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-areas/what-is-dark-energy

https://www.space.com/20502-dark-matter-universe-mystery-infographic.html