Not one, not two, but three U.S.-born scientists won the Nobel Prize in physics today. All of them are affiliated with a university: Saul Perlmutter with the University of California, Berkeley; Brian Schmidt with the Australian National University in Weston Creek; and Adam Riess with Johns Hopkins University and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. The three of them will share the 10 million kronor ($1.5 million) award.
They won this coveted prize for a study of exploding stars that led them to the conclusion that the expansion of the universe is accelerating. This discovery comes with implications for the eventual fate of the universe.
"The original project began because we know the universe is expanding," Perlmutter said in a Huffington Post article. "Everybody had assumed that gravity would slow down the expansion of the universe and everything would come to a halt and collapse."
Assuming the three scientists’ breakthrough holds true, the universe is expected to get increasingly colder as matter spreads across space. Galaxies will move away from Earth at even faster paces than anticipated prior to this new way of thinking about the expansion of the universe. Charles Blue, spokesman for the American Institute of Physics, said in an Associated Press article that he believes these cosmological shifts will eventually turn the universe into “a very, very large, but very cold and lonely place.”
Nobel physics committee secretary Lars Bergstrom described this phenomenon as the “big rip” (as opposed to the big bang) to show how galaxies will be torn apart from each other. The acceleration causing this is driven by what scientists have dubbed dark energy, a theoretical force that remains a mystery of science. Idea for Nobel Prize-seeking scientists: solve this mystery.
Photo: AndyRobertsPhotos at flickr.com