Physical Science Blog

Runaway universe wins Nobel Prize

This year’s physics winners find the universe is accelerating

October 4, 2011

Just be thankful you won’t be around when the universe is ending – according to the winners of this year’s Nobel Prize in physics the end will be freezing and very, very dark and dominated by “black skies unbroken by the light of galaxies.” (Or at least that’s how the Associated Press describes it).

The U.S. trio of scientists Saul Perlmutter, Brian Schmidt and Adam Riess discovered that not only is our universe expanding, but it’s also accelerating – a notion that went against all previous assumptions that gravity will eventually slow things down.

The cause of this gravity-defying repulsion is likely due to dark energy – the elusive unknown force that many experts say represents the biggest mystery in modern physics, if not modern science.

By locating distant supernova, specifically the type Ia supernovae, the researchers noticed that the these exploding stars were much dimmer than they’d expected – illuminating the fact that their galaxies must be moving away from each other faster than they thought.

The idea of galaxies tearing apart from each other is known as the “big rip”, which contrasts with the far less ominous-sounding big bang. (In big bang theory, gravitational matter pulls on the expanding universe, preventing it from “ripping”.) Einstein recognized that the universe could expand or contract, calling it the cosmological constant (and also his “biggest blunder”) – or the force that rejects gravity and keeps the universe from collapsing. (See neutrinos, Einstein is never wrong.)

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About the Author

Allison T. McCann has a B.S. in science, technology and society from Stanford University, an interdisciplinary major that sparked an interest in all things that swipe, zoom, beep, fly or otherwise involve cool technology. How does that work? is the eternal question that lingers in her thoughts during long runs along the Hudson. A born and raised California girl, she’s a bit nervous about the New York winters, but is very excited to continue writing about science and technology at SHERP. Follow her on Twitter.

Discussion

3 Comments

Mariah says:

The STARS are much dimmer, ILLUMINATING the fact that their galaxies must be moving away from each other. You forgot no pun intended, Al ;) great article though!

Nothing but good issues must come to an end

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