European Space Agency to Probe Dark and Light

Europe will launch two missions to study the sun and the mysterious "dark energy" that is speeding the universe's expansion in launch slots slated for 2017 and 2019. The two missions, dubbed Solar Orbiter and Euclid, were selected yesterday by the European Space Agency (ESA) and will now move forward to construction. There were three missions in the running for the two launches, the runner-up is PLATO, an observatory to study planet formation and the conditions for life, which will be retained as a possibility for future launches.

ESA's cosmic vision plan took shape from the sort of missions that were being discussed in the selection process. Solar Orbiter and Euclid will be its first missions and are classed as medium-sized.

Solar Orbiter will go closer to the sun than any previous mission and will study how the sun interacts with its environment. Euclid is a space telescope that will map the large-scale structures of the universe with extreme accuracy, trying to elucidate why the universe is expanding at an ever-increasing rate.