“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,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement.
The prize was divided, with one half going to Saul Perlmutter at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and University of California, and the other jointly to Brian P.Schmidt, a US and Australian citizen working at the Australian National University, and Adam G.Reiss at John Hopkins University.
The trio have studied several dozen exploding stars, known as supernovae, and discovered that the universe is expanding at an ever-accelerating rate, a discovery which came as a complete surprise to the laureates themselves, according to the Royal Academy.
Sam Perlmutter and Brian Schmidt, assisted by Adam Reiss, led two research teams, which began work in 1998 and 1994 respectively, seeking to map the universe by locating the most distant supernovae.
The two teams located over 50 distant supernovae whose light was weaker than expected – taken as a sign that the expansion of the universe is accelerating.
The two teams reached the same conclusion – that if the expansion continues to speed up the universe will end in ice.
This expansion is thought to be driven by dark energy and challenged the presumption that the universe’s expansion is a consequence of the Big Bang about 14 billion years ago.
The exact nature of this dark energy remains something of an enigma – “perhaps the greatest in physics today”, the Academy observed.