An astronomy professor from Johns Hopkins University is one of three U.S.-born scientists who won the 2011 Nobel Prize in physics Tuesday after discovering that the universe’s expansion is not slowing down as was long believed, but actually speeding up.
“I’m dazed,” Adam Riess told the Associated Press after receiving an early morning call at his Baltimore home and realizing the man speaking in Swedish on the other end of the line “wasn’t Ikea.”
Riess shares the prize, awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, with his teammate Brian Schmidt of Australian National University and Saul Perlmutter of University of California, Berkeley.
Riess and Schmidt discovered that light from dozens of exploding stars were weaker than expected, the AP reported.
This, for the non-scientists out there, indicated that galaxies — and, by default, the edges of the universe — were moving at an accelerating speed. For decades, scientists believed the universe’s expansion was slowing down.
Making the discovery sound even more like sci-fi is the unexplained phenomenon apparently causing this speed-up, so-called “dark energy” that is believed to fill the universe.
The research suggests that billions of years from now, the universe will become “a very, very large, but very cold and lonely place,” Charles Blue, spokesman for the American Institute of Physics said.
Perlmutter’s team published similar results shortly after Riess and Schmidt in 1998, according to a news release from Johns Hopkins University.
The three men, who also shared the Peter Gruber Foundation’s 2007 Cosmology Prize and 2006 Shaw Prize in astronomy for their discovery of dark energy, will receive medals and split a cash reward of $1.49 million, according to Johns Hopkins. The award will be presented at a ceremony in Stockholm in December.
Riess is the 35th person associated with Johns Hopkins to win a Nobel Prize, according to the university.
“This is an amazing day for all of us at Johns Hopkins, and we are immensely proud,” said Ronald J. Daniels, president of the university.