The 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics

The Nobel Prize is considered the highest award in any given field. It is awarded for yearly progress in scientific or cultural advances in the world. Currently there are five Nobel prizes given out yearly (one for physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and peace). In 2011, the Nobel Prize for physics was divided in half, the first half was given to Saul Perlmutter, and the other half was given to both Brian P. Schmidt and Adam G. Rises for “the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae.” But what does this mean?

In 1998, the observation was made that the universe is actually expanding. Basically, each planet is moving further and further away from each other. Through the viewing a supernova (an extremely large explosion) Saul, Brian and Adam were able to see that the supernova was moving further away as time passed.

Logically, because all galaxies and planets have mass and gravity, this expansion should eventually slow down and reserve (because galaxies will be attracted to each other.) Saul, Brian, and Adam used their observations of the moving supernova and concluded that this is not the case. Not only is the expansion of the universe not slowing down, it is, in fact, speeding up!

To explain this, the theory of dark energy was created. It states that there is dark energy all around but it cannot be seen. This dark energy “pushes” the planets away from each other, making them move further away from other planets. The more space there is between planets, the more dark energy can push it. Because of this, the farther a planet moves from another planet the faster it moves, creating a never ending cycle.  Although this observation was made in 1998, it was not until 2011 that the three scientists were awarded with the Nobel Prize. Because the universe is expanding more rapidly with each passing second, scientists have come up with three theories involving the future for our universe.

The first is the big crunch. The big crunch is the theory that, because the universe is expanding, there must be sufficient dark energy to counteract the pull of each planet. Eventually, if there is not enough dark energy, the expansion could suddenly stop and reverse, causing all the matter in the universe to come crashing into a single point.

The second theory is the big rip. The big rip says that as the expansion speeds up everything in the universe will start to repel from each other, causing all matter to rip apart, tearing apart everything from galaxies to atoms.

The third theory is the big freeze. The big theory says that heat is a form of energy which always travels from hot places to cold places. In time, because the universe is expanding, all the heat in the universe will be evenly distributed throughout space, making heat “die” further reading on each theory can be found here: