[ASC-media] A crazy result wins physics Nobel for Brian Schmidt
niall at scienceinpublic.com.au
Tue Oct 4 13:47:24 CEST 2011
A crazy result wins physics Nobel for Brian Schmidt
And triggered the hunt for dark energy
Tuesday 4 October 2011
The Australian Institute of Physics congratulates Brian Schmidt, Saul Perlmutter and Adam Riess on the 2011 Nobel Prize for Physics.
"They discovered that the Universe isn't just expanding. The rate of expansion is increasing," says Dr Marc Duldig, President of the Australian Institute of Physics.
"Their discovery transformed astronomy. Today scientists are searching for dark energy - in part to explain their discovery," he says.
Brian Schmidt, from ANU in Canberra, led one of two competing teams. But there were several other Australians in both teams including CSIRO's Brian Boyle and Swinburne's Warrick Couch.
The two teams: the Supernova Cosmology Project and the High-z Supernova Search Team, discovered that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating.
An accelerating universe was a crazy result that was hard to accept. Yet, two teams, racing neck and neck, simultaneously came to the same conclusion. Their discovery led to the idea of an expansion force, dubbed dark energy. And it suggests that the fate of the universe is to just keep expanding, faster and faster.
The two teams expected to find that the universe would either expand then contract, or it would expand for ever but slowing over the millennia. But there were a growing number of hints that all was not right with the theories of the time.
To find out, they not only needed to be able to measure the speed with which distant objects are traveling away from us, but also how far away they are. And to do this they needed standardized light sources - very bright ones that would be visible to Earth-based telescopes despite being billions of light years away and billions of years old.
The standard light sources they used were exploding stars - in particular Type Ia supernovae. But finding them wasn't easy. Then the analyses over the results turned up very surprising results. "The data wasn't behaving as we thought it would," says Schmidt. "There was a lot of nervous laughter," says Perlmutter. For both teams it was not what they were expecting. For months they both tried to figure out where they had gone wrong, searching for any tiny source of error. But the data was right. The accepted model of the universe was wrong.
Today Perlmutter, Schmidt and their colleagues continue to explore the implications of their work. Schmidt has developed the SkyMapper project, a telescope to map the southern sky. Perlmutter is working on a satellite mission that would study supernovae and the nature of dark energy.
Marc Duldig, AIP President, +61 (421) 757285
Niall Byrne, 0417 131 977, niall at scienceinpublic.com.au<mailto:niall at scienceinpublic.com.au>
Marc and Niall are both available for interview.
Background information courtesy of Science in Public and the Gruber Foundation
Links, and full lists of the team members are online at
Other links: http://www.gruberprizes.org/GruberPrizes/Cosmology_LaureateOverview.php?awardid=42
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