UMKC Assistant Professor Selected for NASA Science Team
The European Space Agency has selected Mark Brodwin, University of Missouri-Kansas City assistant professor of physics and astronomy, as one of its NASA-nominated science team members to participate in its Euclid mission.
NASA is a partner in Euclid, a space telescope designed to probe the mysteries of our “dark” universe. Scientists think dark energy might be responsible for stretching our universe apart at ever-increasing speeds — an observation that earned the Nobel Prize in 2011.
“These data will revolutionize cosmology and astronomy early in the next decade, so it’s exciting to be a member of the team working to make Euclid a success,” said UMKC’s Brodwin, who is part of the 43-member group from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA. This team consists of 29 new members, including Brodwin, and 14 U.S. scientists already working on Euclid. No other scientist based in Kansas or Missouri is part of the team.
“Our efforts, in collaboration with European colleagues, over the next several years to test and improve the survey strategy and instrumentation will ultimately be rewarded when the Euclid data start rolling in,” Brodwin added.
Euclid will launch in 2020 and spend six years mapping the locations and measuring the shapes of as many as 2 billion galaxies spread over more than one-third of the sky. The scientists will use Euclid to study dark matter and dark energy that influence changes in the universe in ways that are still poorly understood.
What is dark matter? Everyday matter that we see around us — for example, in furniture, people and even stars — makes up only about 3 percent of everything in our cosmos. If you could fill a bucket with the mass and energy contents of our universe, this everyday matter would fill only a small fraction. A larger amount, about 24 percent, would consist of dark matter, an invisible substance that does not reflect or emit any light but exerts a gravitational tug on other matter.
What is dark energy? The majority of our universal bucket, about 73 percent, is thought to be filled with dark energy, something even more enigmatic than dark matter. Dark matter pulls on other matter via its gravity, but dark energy is thought to be a repulsive force pushing matter apart.
“Euclid will probe the nature of the dark energy that’s causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate,” Brodwin said. “Euclid data will provide the most stringent test of Einstein’s theory of general relativity on cosmological scales, and will definitively tell us whether that theory can explain the acceleration, or whether dark energy is an even more exotic phenomenon. In any case, the measurements will guide the next generation of astronomers, cosmologists and physicists in their quest to more fully understand the history of the universe, from the Big Bang to the present and off to the distant future.”
Euclid scientists will use two methods to make the most precise measurements yet of our “dark” universe:
- Weak lensing involves analyzing shapes of billions of galaxies over half the age of the universe. Changes in these dark matter structures over time are governed by an interplay between the attractive force of gravity and the repulsive dark energy. So studying galaxy shapes reveals information about both dark matter and dark energy.
“Although Euclid will measure accurate distances using spectroscopy for a small number of these galaxies, for the vast majority we’ll need to use an approximate method, call ‘photometric redshifts,’” Brodwin said. “I’ve been using this method for years in my research, so I will work with Euclid colleagues over the next few years to develop a highly optimized and precise algorithm for this mission that will allow the weak lensing measurements to succeed.”
- Baryon acoustic oscillations will serve as a measurement of dark energy. Early in the universe, galaxies were imprinted with a standard distance between them. This distance — referred to as a standard ruler — expands as the universe itself expands. By making precise measurements of the distances between billions of galaxies, the scientists will be able to chart this expansion and learn more about the dark energy driving it.
In addition to these techniques, Euclid will also study dark energy using tens of thousands of distant galaxy clusters.
“My colleagues and I have discovered some of the most distant clusters known using current infrared facilities like NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, but Euclid will cover 1,000 times more area,” Brodwin said. “This will allow Euclid scientists to study the formation and evolution of galaxies in rich cluster environments over most of their lifetimes.
“From a cosmological perspective, the number of clusters that Euclid finds at each epoch of the universe’s past depends sensitively on the amount of dark energy and how it changes with time,” Brodwin said. “So clusters provide a powerful, independent check on the other Euclid tests of dark energy. Finally, the number of extremely massive clusters is a probe of the conditions in the very early universe. It can help us understand more about the ‘seeds’ from which all galaxies and clusters form.”
Before joining the UMKC faculty in 2011, Brodwin was a fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Prior to that, he was a NASA post-doctoral fellow at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
This semester at UMKC, Brodwin is teaching an introduction to astronomy laboratory course for non-majors and a cosmology course to seniors and graduate students. His research includes discovering galaxy clusters in the distant universe with infrared and radio techniques, and studying them using data from space telescopes, as well as telescopes located in Hawaii, Chile and at the South Pole.
About the University of Missouri-Kansas City
The University of Missouri-Kansas City, one of four University of Missouri campuses, is a public university serving more than 15,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students, and celebrating its 80th anniversary in 2013. UMKC engages with the community and economy based on a four-part mission: life and health sciences; visual and performing arts; urban issues and education; and a vibrant learning and campus life experience. For more information about UMKC, visit www.umkc.edu. You can also find us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and watch us on YouTube.
Euclid is a European Space Agency mission with science instruments and data analysis provided by the Euclid Consortium (http://www.euclid-ec.org) with important participation from NASA. NASA’s Euclid Project Office is based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. JPL will contribute the infrared flight detectors for one of Euclid’s two science instruments. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., will perform detailed testing on the infrared flight detectors prior to delivery. Three U.S. science teams, led by JPL, Goddard and the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech, will contribute to science planning and data analysis. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.
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