The Peter Gruber Cosmology Prize 2006

Prague, August, 2006 - John Mather and the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) team today received the 2006 Gruber Cosmology Prize for their ground-breaking studies confirming that our universe was born in a hot Big Bang.

The gold medal and a $250,000 cash prize was awarded at the opening ceremony of the International Astronomical Union’s General Assembly in Prague on Tuesday 15 August 2006.

The instruments aboard NASA's Cosmic Background Explorer, launched in 1989, looked back over thirteen billion years to the early universe.

John Mather

COBE showed us that the young universe was hot, dense, and almost uniform; that it contained weak fluctuations or lumps that grew into the galaxies and stars we see today; that these fluctuations were the consequence of a hot Big Bang; and that the universe is filled with diffuse radiation from previously unknown galaxies.

COBE was NASA’s first dedicated cosmology mission, and the culmination of a fifteen-year dream for John Mather, who initiated the project with a proposal to NASA in 1974. NASA formed the science team in 1976, including members of two competing proposal teams, and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center built the COBE in Greenbelt, MD.

As COBE’s scientific leader, Mather worked to keep a 1,500 strong project team focused on the science. There were many hurdles, including the Challenger Shuttle tragedy, which sent the team back to the drawing board, to redesign COBE for launch by a Delta rocket.

Now Mather still loves to look back in time. As chief scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), he is hoping that it will see back to within just 200 million years of the Big Bang.

“We’re explorers,” he says. “We need to understand where we and our universe came from.”

The Prize is shared by John Mather and the COBE science working group – representing the large project team.

“COBE profoundly affected our understanding of cosmic evolution,” said Peter Gruber, chairman of the Peter Gruber Foundation. “I’m delighted to honor John Mather and the COBE team for their remarkable achievements.”

John Mather gave the Peter Gruber Lecture at the IAU Congress in Prague on Wednesday 16 August on COBE, JWST and what the future holds for cosmologists.

Since 2000, the Cosmology Prize of the Peter Gruber Foundation has recognized individuals for their ground-breaking theoretical, analytical, or conceptual discoveries. The Prize carries a gold medal and a $US250,000 cash prize.
The Cosmology prize is awarded in partnership with the International Astronomical Union.

The Foundation was founded in 1993 and established a record of charitable giving principally in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where it is located. The Foundation supports five international awards: Cosmology; Justice; Genetics, Neuroscience; and Women’s Rights.

The official citation reads:

The 2006 Cosmology Prize of the Peter Gruber Foundation is proudly presented to Dr. John Mather and the COBE team for their ground-breaking studies of the spectrum and spatial structure of the relic radiation from the Big Bang.

Their instruments aboard NASA's Cosmic Background Explorer showed that the young universe was hot, dense, and almost uniform, that it contained weak fluctuations which grew into all present-day structure, and that these fluctuations could have been generated by physical processes only if the universe evolved differently at the earliest times than supposed by previous standard models.

With these results, the COBE team, led by John Mather, set cosmology's agenda for decades to come and profoundly affected our understanding of cosmic evolution.

John Mather will receive half the Prize. The balance will be shared by the other eighteen members of the Science Working Group: Charles L. Bennett; Nancy W. Boggess; Edward S. Cheng; Eli Dwek; Samuel Gulkis; Michael G. Hauser; Michael A. Janssen; Thomas Kelsall; Philip M. Lubin; Stephan S. Meyer; S. Harvey Moseley; Thomas L. Murdock; Richard A. Shafer; Robert F. Silverberg; George F. Smoot; Rainer Weiss; David T. Wilkinson (deceased); Edward L. Wright.


More information about this award can be found here.


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