Accelerating Expansion of Universe Discovery Wins 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics

by Nancy Atkinson on October 4, 2011

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The accelerating, expanding Universe. Credit: NASA/WMAP

Three scientists shared the 2011 Nobel Prize for physics for the discovery that the expansion of the universe is speeding up, the Nobel prize committee announced today. Half of the $1.5 million prize went to American Saul Perlmutter and the rest to two members of a second team which conducted similar work: American Adam Riess and U.S.-born Brian Schmidt, who is based in Australia. All three made the discovery through observations of distant supernovae.

Perlmutter is from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and University of California, Berkeley, and worked on the Supernova Cosmology Project. Schmidt is from the Australian National University and Riess is from the Johns Hopkins University and Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore. They worked together on the High-z Supernova Search Team.

In response to the announcement, Professor Sir Peter Knight, President of the Institute of Physics, said, “The recipients of today’s award are at the frontier of modern astrophysics and have triggered an enormous amount of research on dark energy.

“These researchers have opened our eyes to the true nature of our Universe. They are very well-deserved recipients.”

Source: IOP

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also is the host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast and works with Astronomy Cast. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Anonymous October 4, 2011 at 3:25 PM

Please excuse my lack of espertise in this field. Since the acceleration seems to be taking place in the most distant reaches of the universe, is it possible that it is being drawn to something ?

Anonymous October 4, 2011 at 4:28 PM

Everything is expanding away from everything else. If you are on a galaxy you see all other galaxies moving away from you radially in all directions. This is observed on all galaxies. The motion of expansion has been found to be accelerating outwards. Permutter found this with SNI data and it has been further corroborated with other data ranging from WMAP to Hubble Space Telescope data.

LC

Jeremiah Barkman October 4, 2011 at 11:16 PM

There is some work on this idea about a drift occurring to some galaxies. Look up dark flow on Google for some info. But the expansion acceleration is another effect caused by what has been called Dark Energy. But it is a very GOOD question.

Torbjörn Larsson October 7, 2011 at 2:15 PM

Good question. But it turns out that when the observations are gathered, no one is in fact a center of sorts, no one is “privileged” as simplest physics would indeed predict.

To visualize that “everything is expanding away from everything else”, a rising raisin bread may help. Imagine that microscopically you stand on one raisin. Then every other raisin will accelerate away as the bread raises.

That will look the same, whichever raisin you stand on.

Dark energy is like discovering that the yeast has started to grow again instead of running out of sugar as expected.

Where does the sugar come from? Stand by for the scientists to work out the sweets…

Anonymous October 4, 2011 at 3:29 PM

expertise

Anonymous October 4, 2011 at 6:38 PM

Btw: You can edit your posts, now.

Anonymous October 4, 2011 at 6:45 PM

thanks

Anonymous October 4, 2011 at 6:39 PM

Congratulations to all three of them. :)

Sometimes I have the impression that an astronomer can only win the Nobel Prize if he is into cosmology.
I am also quite sure that my work concerning some spectral features of blazars does not deserve a Nobel Prize. :-D

TerryG October 5, 2011 at 1:46 AM

Ha Ha LOL. Worry not DrFlimmer. You aren’t missing much.

- The “accelerating expansion of the universe” results have been known for about a decade, so what was holding back the Nobel committee? Were they waiting to check if the expansion stopped or does committee time somehow tick more slowly?

- The prize of ~$1.5 million aussie dollars divided by 3 recipients and divided again into each of ten years that past since the work was completed amounts to little more than an average annual salary give or take.

- There is a Nobel prize awarded for Economics, as though that were a meritorious scientific field, and yet look at the deteriorating state of the World’s finances.

- The Nobels, Ig Nobels and most other prizes are more about promoting the prize giver than the receiver.

But as you say, congratulations to all three.

Torbjörn Larsson October 7, 2011 at 2:18 PM

The prize is inflating down.

But actually the Nobel Foundation has invested wisely, and the capital has increased faster. I expect they will adjust the award when the current economical situation resolves. But don’t hold your breath.

Anonymous October 4, 2011 at 8:45 PM

[IVAN]
Heading should read “Nobel Prize”, not “Noble”.
[/IVAN]

Torbjörn Larsson October 7, 2011 at 2:19 PM

It was a Noble effort, though.

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