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Nobel Prize for research into supernovas

Three scientists have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their research into exploding stars. On the basis of their observations they were able to prove that the universe is expanding at an accelerated pace.

Three scientists have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their research into exploding stars. On the basis of their observations they were able to prove that the universe is expanding at an accelerated pace.

Half of the prize money goes to the American Saul Perlmutter, who embarked upon his work in 1988, the other half goes jointly to Brian Schmidt from Australia and his American colleague Adam Riess, who started a similar mission in 1994. The two research groups wanted to map out the universe to its extreme limits.

In doing so, they encountered a surprise. Scientists have always assumed that the universe, under the influence of gravity, would expand less and less and eventually collapse. But observations of supernovas prove the opposite.

Using sophisticated telescopes and analysis instruments, the scientists explored distant supernovas. These are stars that explode spectacularly. They were especially interested in the supernovas of ‘white dwarfs’: stars that are as small as the earth and as heavy as the sun. Such supernovas always emit the same amount of light, making them suitable to help calculate the distance of galaxies.

About fifty of these supernovas gave off weaker light than expected. After some calculating, it turned out that this could only mean one thing: they were moving faster and faster away into the universe. “It is like putting your foot on the brake in a car, only to discover that you are going faster and faster,” explained a professor at the press conference by the Nobel Prize Committee this morning.

The expansion of the universe is also food for thought for the idea of dark matter. Only five per cent of the universe consists of visible matter, such as stars and planets, while scientists still have no idea where the rest of all the energy in the universe comes from.

 

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