Congrats to Saul, Brian, and about a zillion others

By Phil Plait | July 17, 2007 5:50 pm

My email box is flooded with news that the Gruber Prize (not named, unfortunately, for Hans Gruber — who would have been a good astronomer, since he spent quite a bit of time on the roof) was awarded to the two teams who, in 1998, discovered that the expansion of the Universe has been set on overdrive: a mysterious dark energy is accelerating the expansion. I’ll spare the details here and send you off to read an earlier blog entry I wrote explaining it (and a Bitesize piece I wrote at the time, and a followup).

The Prize is for a cool half million bucks, which will be divided up among the two teams. They’ve won many prizes in the past, too. It’s deserved. This was phenomenally tough work, and it’s looking like it’ll hold up. It changed the way we looked at the Universe, and may still have many surprises waiting for us.

I know a whole passel of the folks on those teams; I was tangentially involved at the time with Brian Schmidt’s team, and later wound up working for Saul Perlmutter on the education and public outreach for his SNAP experiment, which will follow up on the dark energy observations. I’ve promised to do this before, but someday I’ll write up my personal involvement; it’s a bit silly but a funny story. Someday.

Oh– Science Blogs’s Rob Knop gets a piece of this as well!

So congrats all around!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Science

Comments (7)

  1. Folcrom


    If the expansion of the universe is “set on overdrive”, won’t that eventually lead to a “Big Rip”?

    Assuming a “Big Rip” occurs and that the “glue” that holds all matter in it’s “manifest” state, is overcome by the expansion, would this lead to a universe that contains only energy and nothing else?

    How stable would such a universe be?

    Would it then collapse in on itself?

    Tooooo many questions and not enough answers.

    Thoughts anyone?


  2. If there was to be a “Big Rip,” as you put it, what exactly would be ripping?

  3. Folcrom


    Galaxies would break up.
    Clusters of stars would break up.
    Solar systems would shed their planets.
    Planets would shed their moons.

    All theses celestial bodies (stars, planets, moons etc)
    would eventually breaks up.

    Molecules would break up.
    Atoms would break up.
    Atomic particles would break up.

    The ever accelerating expansion would eventually overcome every force that holds the universe (as it currently is) together. One after another these forces would be overwelmed.

    Even the forces that allow matter to exist, would eventually be overcome.

    All that would be left, would be light (ie energy).


  4. Was it, perhaps, named after Kelly Gruber? Oh, never mind. If it had been it would have been called the “Mrs. Ernie Whitt” prize.

  5. The Big Rip is a possibility allowed by the data, but most consider it to be unlikely.

    A standard “cosmological constant” or vacuum energy explanation of Dark Energy does *not* lead to a Big Rip. It leads to a Big Chill — the Universe expanding forever at an ever-accelerating rate. Eventually, that expansion becomes exponential, but of course an exponential function remains finite as its argument is finite.

    The Big Rip is a case where the “equation of state parameter of Dark Energy is less than -1.” In this case, you can show that the expansion rate of the Universe goes to infinity in *finite* time.


  6. Buzz Parsec

    The Big Rip is proof that Alvy Singer was right to be worried.

  7. George

    Nice to hear of financial reward now and then.

    Robert Kirshner’s book, Extravagant Universe, was an enjoyable read that illustrated the importance of having quality data over having quantity data. Their team were first with the news of accelerated expansion because of their greater data accuracy by using numerous filters in their observations. Perlumtter’s team had many more supernovas to use in their plot, but their data was less accurate.

    This might make an interesting blog story, too.]


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