ANU’s Brian Schmidt joint winner of Nobel prize

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Brian Schmidt, an Australian National University (ANU) astronomer, has been named a joint winner of the 2011 Nobel physics prize for his research that discovered the universe is expanding at an accelerating pace.

Brian Schmidt is the head of the High-z Supernova Search Team at the Australian National University near Canberra. He shares the 10 million Swedish crowns (AUD 1.58 million) prize money with two other US scientists, Adam Riess and Saul Perlmutter.

According to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, working in two separate research teams during the 1990s – Schmidt and Riess in one and Perlmutter in the other – the three scientists mapped the universe’s expansion by analysing a particular type of supernovas or exploding stars.

They discovered that the light emitted by more than 50 distant supernovas was weaker than expected, a sign that universe was expanding at an accelerating rate, the academy said.

“For almost a century the universe has been known to be expanding as a consequence of the Big Bang about 14 billion years ago,” the citation said. “However the discovery that this expansion is accelerating is astounding.”

Adam Riess is an astronomy professor at Johns Hopkins University and Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.

Saul Perlmutter heads the Supernova Cosmology Project at the University of California, Berkeley.

As per the academy, researchers were stunned by their own discoveries. They were expecting to find that the expansion of the universe was slowing down.

But both teams reached contradictory conclusion. The far-away galaxies were racing away from each other at an ever-increasing speed. The acceleration is believed to be driven by dark energy, one of the great mysteries of the universe.