This year’s Nobel Prize in physics goes to three astrophysicists who discovered that the universe is expanding at an ever-accelerating rate, rather than decelerating as the theory of gravity predicts. Adam Riess of Johns Hopkins University, along with Brian Schmidt of Australian National University, will share the prize with Saul Perlmutter of U.C. Berkeley who reached the same conclusion independently. When the astrophysicists made their discoveries in 1997, the theory of a decelerating universe was so prevalent that they were sure they had made a mistake in their calculations.
What’s the Big Idea?
The discovery that that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate revolutionized our understanding of the universe. It is one of the major scientific findings of the 20th century. At the time, astrophysicists thought gravity (the force that attracts large physical bodies toward each other) would decelerate the expanding universe, eventually reuniting all the matter that had been compacted the instant before the Big Bang. Known as the Big Crunch, the prevailing theory of the time gave away to the Big Freeze, where matter will continue to spread itself across the universe until it is eventually unable to support life or even movement.
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