A crazy result delivers the $500,000 Gruber Cosmology Prize to two teams who discovered the accelerating universe.
Saul Perlmutter and Brian Schmidt and their teams: the Supernova Cosmology Project and the High-z Supernova Search team, will receive the 2007 Gruber Cosmology Prize for their discovery that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating. They will receive the prize at a ceremony at the University of Cambridge on September 7.
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 travelling 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 is planning 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.
The $US 500,000 prize will be shared in four parts: by Schmidt — at the Australian National University; Saul Perlmutter — at the University of California, Berkeley; and the fifty-one co-authors of the key papers.
The Cosmology Prize honors a leading cosmologist, astronomer, astrophysicist or scientific philosopher for theoretical, analytical or conceptual discoveries leading to fundamental advances in the field.
Since 2001, the Cosmology Prize has been awarded in collaboration with the International Astronomical Union. The Foundation’s other international prizes are in Genetics, Neuroscience, Justice and Women’s Rights. Nominations for the 2008 prizes are now open and close on December 31, 2007.
Profiles of Perlmutter and Schmidt, photos, background information and nomination details for 2008 are available online at
IAU: Lars Lindberg Christensen, + 49 (89) 3200 6306, firstname.lastname@example.org
In Australia: Niall Byrne, +61 (3) 5253-1391, email@example.com
In the USA: Alyson O'Mahoney +1 (914) 241-0086 ext. 13,
[from PPGF News Release]