Feeds

Accelerating universe expansion discovery snags Nobel Prize

Long time coming for Oz-US astronomers

The next step in data security

A discovery first published in 1998 has won the Nobel Prize for Physics for three astronomers, including Brian Schmidt of the Australian National University.

Competing with Saul Perlmutter of the University of California and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and working with Adam Riess of the Johns Hopkins University and Space Telescope Science Institute, Schmidt was part of the team that first demonstrated the rate of expansion of the universe is accelerating.

That discovery – based on work begun in 1988 by Perlmutter, with Schmidt and Riess beginning their measurements in 1995* by a team led by Schmidt in which Riess played what the Nobel Prize release describes as “a crucial role” – has been recognized with the $US1.5 million Nobel.

Schmidt told Australian 702 Sydney radio broadcaster Adam Spencer that the group had chosen to use Type 1A supernovae to measure the rate of expansion of the universe. These supernovae form when a white dwarf absorbs mass from a nearby star, causing it to explode.

Because they have a predictable brightness, Schmidt said, they’re very suitable for such measurements: brightness indicates distance, and red-shift indicates velocity.

And that’s how the team made their discovery – old news today, but surprising at the time. By comparing the movement of relatively nearby Type 1As to their distant (and much older – about 5 billion years old) cousins, they determined that the expansion of the universe now is faster than it was in the distant past.

“I was shocked by the discovery”, Schmidt told 702 listeners. “Initially I thought it couldn’t be right.

“It was over a period of about six weeks that it dawned on me – and the rest of the team – that this was something we were going to have to deal with.”

The search to locate what was “pushing on the universe” eventually led to the hypothesis that the acceleration has to be driven by “dark energy”, which makes up around 73 percent of the universe, he said.

The prize makes Schmidt the first Australian citizen to receive the Nobel Prize for Physics in more than 90 years. The joint winners of the 1915 prize, William and Lawrence Bragg, who split their time between Australia and England and probably regarded themselves as “British” (as was normal for Australians of the day), are credited with initiating the field of X-ray crystallography.

The search still goes on to identify just what comprises the 73 percent of the universe discovered by Perlmutter, Riess and Schmidt. ®

*There’s a discrepancy in dates: the Nobel Prize press release gives the beginning of Schmidt’s project as 1994. However, Schmidt has told various media in Australia, including ABC 702’s Adam Spencer and ABC current affairs show AM that he started work in 1995. ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
SCREW YOU, Russia! NASA lobs $6.8bn at Boeing AND SpaceX to run space station taxis
Musk charging nearly half as much as Boeing for crew trips
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Thought that last dinosaur was BIG? This one's bloody ENORMOUS
Weighed several adult elephants, contend boffins
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
India's MOM Mars mission makes final course correction
Mangalyaan probe will feel the burn of orbital insertion on September 24th
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
City hidden beneath England's Stonehenge had HUMAN ABATTOIR. And a pub
Boozed-up ancients drank beer before tearing corpses apart
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.