Hubble Space Telescope Contributes to Nobel Prize in Physics

These snapshots, taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, reveal five supernovae, or exploding stars, and their host galaxies. The arrows in the top row of images point to the supernovae. The bottom row shows the host galaxies before or after the stars exploded. The supernovae exploded between 3.5 and 10 billion years ago.

Observations made by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope of a special type of supernovae contributed to research on the expansion of the universe that today was honored with the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Adam Riess, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute and Krieger-Eisenhower professor in physics and astronomy at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, was a member of a team awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The academy recognized him for leadership in the High-z Team’s 1998 discovery that the expansion rate of the universe is accelerating, a phenomenon widely attributed to a mysterious, unexplained “dark energy” filling the universe. Critical parts of the work were done with NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

Riess shares the prize with Saul Perlmutter, an astrophysicist at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, whose Supernova Cosmology Project team published similar results shortly after those published by Riess and High-z teammate Brian Schmidt of the Australian National University. Both teams shared the Peter Gruber Foundation’s 2007 Cosmology Prize — a gold medal and $500,000 — for the discovery of dark energy, which Science Magazine called “The Breakthrough Discovery of the Year” in 1998.

“The work of Reiss and others has completely transformed our understanding of the universe,” said Waleed Abdalati, NASA chief scientist. “This award also recognizes the tremendous contributions of the technological community that engineered, deployed, and serviced the Hubble Space Telescope, which continues to open new doors to discovery after more than 20 years of peering deep into the universe. With the future launch of the even more powerful James Webb Space Telescope, NASA is ensuring more revolutionary science discoveries like these in our future.”

Space Telescope Science Institute director Matt Mountain added, “The power of this discovery is that NASA has kept Hubble going for 20 years. This meant that Adam was able to track the history of the universe using science instruments that were upgraded from one servicing mission to the next. That is why this work has been recognized with the Nobel Prize.”

Riess led the study for the High-z Supernova Search Team of highly difficult and precise measurements of objects that spanned 7 billion light years that resulted in the 1998 discovery that many believe has changed astrophysics forever: an accelerated expansion of the universe propelled by dark energy….. Continue reading Hubble Space Telescope Contributes to Nobel Prize in Physics

Physics Nobel will attract controversy

Assigning credit for a scientific discovery is never easy, especially when two rival, interacting teams of scientists are involved. That is exactly the problem that the Nobel committee must have grappled with before awarding this year’s physics prize to Saul Perlmutter, Adam Riess and Brian Schmidt.

Perlmutter led the Supernova Cosmology Project, while Schmidt and Riess were involved with the High-Z Supernovae programme. Both groups came to the surprising conclusion in 1998 that the rate of expansion of the universe is increasing, not decreasing as had been thought. So a shared prize seems fair enough.

Or is it? In 2007 Bob Crease wrote an extensive article about the same discovery that proved controversial – to say the least. Some members from both teams had been particularly worried about Crease’s article, which went through more than 20 drafts.

At issue was the fact that the teams were rivals using different techniques – as well as the question of who reported and published their work first. What Bob’s article reveals is how deeply scientific progress is indebted to ambition, desire, pride, rivalry, suspicion and other perfectly ordinary human passions.

You can read the article here.
By Hamish Johnston –