In the News (from ScienceDaily): “The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the Nobel Prize in Physics for 2011 with one half to Saul Perlmutter… and the other half jointly to Brian P. Schmidt… and Adam G. Riess… for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae.
“‘Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice,’ Robert Frost wrote. What will be the final destiny of the Universe? Probably it will end in ice, if we are to believe this year’s Nobel Laureates in Physics. They have studied several dozen exploding stars, called supernovae, and discovered that the Universe is expanding at an ever-accelerating rate. The discovery came as a complete surprise even to the Laureates themselves.
The teams used a particular kind of supernova, called type Ia supernova. It is an explosion of an old compact star that is as heavy as the Sun but as small as Earth. A single such supernova can emit as much light as a whole galaxy. All in all, the two research teams found over 50 distant supernovae whose light was weaker than expected — this was a sign that the expansion of the Universe was accelerating. The potential pitfalls had been numerous, and the scientists found reassurance in the fact that both groups had reached the same astonishing conclusion.
“For almost a century, the Universe has been known to be expanding as a consequence of the Big Bang about 14 billion years ago. However, the discovery that this expansion is accelerating is astounding. If the expansion will continue to speed up the Universe will end in ice.
“The acceleration is thought to be driven by dark energy, but what that dark energy is remains an enigma — perhaps the greatest in physics today. What is known is that dark energy constitutes about three quarters of the Universe. Therefore the findings of the 2011 Nobel Laureates in Physics have helped to unveil a Universe that to a large extent is unknown to science. And everything is possible again.”