Nobel physics prize honours accelerating Universe find
Three researchers behind the discovery that our Universe's expansion is accelerating have been awarded this year's Nobel prize for physics.
Saul Perlmutter and Adam Riess of the US and Brian Schmidt of Australia will divide the prize.
The trio studied what are called Type 1a supernovae, determining that more distant objects seem to move faster.
Their observations suggest that not only is the Universe expanding, its expansion is relentlessly speeding up.
Prof Perlmutter of the University of California, Berkeley, has been awarded half the 10m Swedish krona (£940,000) prize, with Prof Schmidt of the Australian National University and Prof Riess of Johns Hopkins University's Space Telescope Science Institute sharing the other half.
Prof Schmidt spoke to the Nobel commitee from Australia during the ceremony.
"It feels like when my children were born," he said.
"I feel weak at the knees, very excited and somewhat amazed by the situation. It's been a pretty exciting last half hour."
The trio's findings form the basis of our current understanding of the Universe's origins, but raises a number of difficult questions.
In order to explain the rising expansion, cosmologists have suggested the existence of what is known as dark energy. Although its properties and nature remain mysterious, the predominant theory holds that dark energy makes up some three-quarters of the Universe.
* Gravity acting across vast distances does not seem to explain what astronomers see
* Galaxies, for example, should fly apart; some other mass must be there holding them together
* Astrophysicists have thus postulated "dark matter" - invisible to us but clearly acting on galactic scales
* At the greatest distances, as the Nobel laureates found, the Universe's expansion is accelerating
* Thus we have also "dark energy" which acts to drive the expansion, in opposition to gravity
* The current theory holds that 70% of the Universe is dark energy, 25% is dark matter, and just 5% the kind of matter we know well
Prof Perlmutter led the Supernova Cosmology Project, which began in 1988, and Prof Schmidt and Prof Riess began work in 1994 on a similar project known as the High-z Supernova Search Team.
Their goal was to measure distant Type 1a supernovas - the brilliant ends of a particular kind of dense star known as a white dwarf.
Because their explosive ends are of roughly the same brightness, the amount of light observed from the supernovas on Earth should be an indication of their distance; slight shifts in their colour indicate how fast they are moving.
At the time, the competing teams expected to find that the more distant supernovas were slowing down, relative to those nearer - a decline of the expansion of the Universe that began with the Big Bang.
Instead, both teams found the same thing: distant supernovas were in fact speeding up, suggesting that the Universe is destined for an ever-increasing expansion.
What the trio found has sparked a new epoch in cosmology, seeking to understand what is driving the expansion.
Commenting on the prize, Prof Sir Peter Knight, head of the UK's Institute of Physics, said: "The recipients of today's award are at the frontier of modern astrophysics and have triggered an enormous amount of research on dark energy."
"These researchers have opened our eyes to the true nature of our Universe," he added. "They are very well-deserved recipients."
The Nobel prizes have been given out annually since 1901, covering the fields of medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and peace.
Monday's award of the 2011 prize for physiology or medicine went to Bruce Beutler of the US, Jules Hoffmann from France and Ralph Steinman from Canada for their work on immunology.
This year's chemistry prize will be announced on Wednesday.
Dakle, svaka čast, zbilja zasluženo priznanje koje odslikava kontinuitet razvoja kosmologije. Jedino može biti donekle sporno zašto jedan od dobitnika nije Stiven Vajnberg koji je 1987. predvideo njihovo otkriće - ali verovatno nije uzet u obzir zato što bi to njemu bio drugi Nobel (iako ga čovek sigurno zaslužuje), a postoji i dodatna predrasuda Akademije prema teorijskim predviđanjima. Ali generalno, ovo je velika potvrda koliko je, nasuprot domaćim budalašenjima, Nobel i dalje vrhunski relevantan. Nadam se da će ova nagrada biti dobro dodatno iskorišćena za popularizaciju kosmologije.