Saul Perlmutter, Distant Supernovae, Dark Energy,
and the Accelerating Expansion of the Universe

Resources with Additional Information · Awards

Saul Perlmutter
Photo Courtesy of
Lawrence Berkeley National
Laboratory

'Saul Perlmutter, an astrophysicist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a professor of physics at the University of California at Berkeley, has won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics “for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe through observations of distant supernovae.” '1

'Perlmutter … led the Supernova Cosmology Project that, in 1998, discovered that galaxies are receding from one another faster now than they were billions of years ago.

He will share the prize with Adam G. Riess, 41, of The Johns Hopkins University and Brian Schmidt, 44, of Australian National University’s Mount Stromlo and Siding Spring Observatories, two members of the competing High-Z Supernova Search team. When the discovery was made, Riess was a postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley working with astronomer Alex Filippenko, who at different times was a member of both teams.'2

'The accelerating expansion of the universe was discovered after years of work by the Supernova Cosmology Project, an international collaboration of researchers from the United States, France, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Chile, Japan, Spain, and other countries, based at Berkeley Lab. The Supernova Cosmology Project was cofounded by Perlmutter in 1988 to devise methods of using distant supernovae to measure the expansion rate of the universe. '1 'Perlmutter heads … [this] Project, which pioneered the methods used to discover the accelerating expansion of the universe, and he has been a leader in studies to determine the nature of dark energy.'1

'The accelerating expansion means that the universe could expand forever until, in the distant future, it is cold and dark. The teams’ discovery led to speculation that there is a “dark energy” that is pushing the universe apart. Though dark energy theoretically makes up 73 percent of the matter and energy of the universe, astronomers and physicists have so far failed to discover the nature of this strange, repulsive force.

In recent years, Perlmutter has been working with NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to build and launch the first space-based observatory designed specifically to understand the nature of dark energy. A dark-energy mission was named the top telescope-building priority in an August 2010 report from a blue-ribbon committee of the National Academy of Sciences.'2

Resources with Additional Information

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