[ASC-media] CSIRO: "Accidental revolutionaries" net US$500, 000 cosmology prize

Rebecca.Eveleigh at csiro.au Rebecca.Eveleigh at csiro.au
Wed Jul 18 01:14:54 CEST 2007

17 July 2007
Ref: 07/130

 "Accidental revolutionaries" net US$500,000 cosmology prize

Dr Brian Boyle, Director of CSIRO's Australia Telescope National
Facility, is one of a group of scientists who will share the 2007 Gruber
Cosmology Prize, worth US$500,000.

This year's Prize has been awarded to Saul Perlmutter (University of
California Berkeley) and Brian Schmidt (Australian National University)
and their teams, the Supernova Cosmology Project and the High-z
Supernova Search team, for their discovery that the expansion of the
Universe is accelerating.

"We set out to refine conventional wisdom. But instead, we overthrew
it," Dr Boyle says.

Dr Boyle was a member of Perlmutter's team, as was Dr Warrick Couch
(Swinburne University), the third member of the enterprise at an
Australian institution. Although it was very much an international
effort, the Supernova Cosmology Project can trace its observational
origins back to Australia, where the first observations were made with
the Anglo-Australian Telescope almost 20 years ago.

The result, published by both teams in 1998, broke down a door in
astrophysics, showing a strange landscape beyond. 

To explain the accelerating expansion, theoreticians have invoked a
concept called Dark Energy, which causes space to "push". But while Dark
Energy now appears to make up most of the "stuff" in the Universe,
theoreticians are still struggling to explain why there's as much of it
as there is, or even why it exists at all.

"It looks like Dark Energy dooms the Universe to expand on and on
forever," says Dr Couch.

Astronomers realised as far back as the 1920s that the Universe was
expanding. But how long would that continue? Perhaps gravity, which
pulls things together, might eventually rein in the expansion.

The teams led by Perlmutter and Schmidt set out to measure whether the
rate of expansion was changing. To do this, they compared what was
happening in the long-ago Universe - which in astronomy is the same as
the far-away Universe - with what was happening in the nearby Universe.
Both teams used the same tool: exploding stars of a particular kind
(called Type Ia supernovae) that up close would all have very much the
same brightness. They used the apparent brightness of these explosions
at different distances to track the size of the Universe at different
times, and hence how its rate of acceleration had changed over time.

The Cosmology Prize is awarded by the Gruber Foundation and honours a
leading cosmologist, astronomer, astrophysicist or scientific
philosopher for theoretical, analytical or conceptual discoveries
leading to fundamental advances in the field.
Gruber Foundation website: www.gruberprizes.org
Pictures available for download from:
More Information	
Dr Brian Boyle, Director, CSIRO Australia Telescope National Facility
02 9372 4301 (office) 0418 882 166 (mob)
Dr Warrick Couch, Swinburne University of Technology
(Currently at Siding Spring Observatory)	0413 011 371 (mob.) 

Media Assistance:	
Helen Sim, Australian Telescope National Facility	02 9372 4251
(office) 0419 635 905 (mob)

Beck Eveleigh
Media Assistant
CSIRO Media Liaison
6276 6451
0409 395 010

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