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The 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics
How did all of this get here? It's a question that has puzzled philosophers, scientists, theologians, and all mankind since the time we first gazed up into the sky and noticed objects of light and fire that would come and go regularly over time. Today the Nobel Committee awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics to Saul Perlmutter, Brian P. Schmidt, and Adam G. Riess for their discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe.

In the 1920s Edwin Hubble observed that the universe was constantly expanding by looking at the light emitted from distant galaxies and realizing that the velocity of the galaxy was proportional to its distance from Earth and to other objects in the universe. The implication was that all objects in the universe were moving away from each other at a constant speed and that all of the mass of the universe was originally contained at a single dense point that was dispersed by The Big Bang. If the universe is expanding constantly, it is hypothesized that at some point, gravity would cause the universe to collapse back on itself into that small point resulting in a fiery end to the universe.

In the late 1990s, this year's Nobel laureates were studying very distant stars called supernovae and observed that those stars were actually accelerating away from Earth contrary to Hubble's observations. These new discoveries were enabled by higher powered telescopes and more powerful computers that Hubble did not have. The observation has led to the hypothesis that there exists "dark energy" that is causing this acceleration. The nature of this "dark energy" and its other implications is one of the most pressing questions in physics today. It is important to note that this years winners are NOT being awarded for "dark energy". That is apparently the subject of a future prize - to be awarded to the people that figure it out.

What are the implications of an accelerating universe? In contrast to an eventual collapse of the universe due to gravity in the case of Hubble's observations, an accelerating expansion of the universe suggests that bodies will continue to move apart until interactions between them become so weak that the entire universe cools to a very low temperature - a cold death of the universe.

And so this year's Nobel Prize in Physics is awarded for a fundamental discovery of the origins of the universe with implications on how it might all end. Congratulations to Saul Perlmutter, Brian P. Schmidt, and Adam G. Riess.

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