The Nobel Prize in Physics 2011 has been awarded to Saul Perlmutter, Brian P Schmidt and Adam G Riess for discovering the accelerating expansion of the universe.
I have a particular interest as I was part of a group that looked for other reasons to explain how the universe can appear to be expanding at an ever-faster rate. We were unable to undermine the findings of the two teams and it's now momentous to see the research which indicated the existence of dark energy being rewarded so prestigiously.
These astrophysicists' research revolutionised our common perception of the universe and unveiled an array of mysteries that we are still trying to fathom.
Some thoughts from Lord Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal and emeritus professor of cosmology and astrophysics at the University of Cambridge:
This award recognises an important and surprising discovery. Even empty space contains energy and exerts a kind of 'antigravity' which causes cosmic expansion to accelerate. It will be a long time before theorists understand this force -- it is part of the bedrock nature of space and time. This discovery has been subsequently strengthened and corroborated by other advances: the evidence from the cosmic microwave background (especially the Boomerang and WMAP experiments) that the geometry of the universe is 'flat', and an accumulation of evidence from observations with large telescopes that atoms and 'dark matter' amount to no more than 30 percent of density needed to make it so.
I think, however, that this is one of the increasingly frequent instances when the Nobel Committee is damagingly constrained by its tradition that a prize can't be shared between more than three individuals. The key papers recognised by this award were authored by two groups, each containing a dozen or so scientists. It would have been fairer, and would send a less distorted message about how this kind of science is actually done, if the award had been made collectively to all members of the two groups.
Very exciting: Nobel Prize in Physics Awarded to Saul Perlmutter, Brian P Schmidt and Adam G Riess for discovering the accelerating expansion of the universe
- via Cynthia's News Posterous