Tuesday, October 04, 2011

How Americans Win (and Can Lose) Nobel Prizes

This is a good opportunity to point out that the work of this year's winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics was made possible because of the Hubble Space Telescope. Perlmutter:
"First we got seven supernovae on the Hubble diagram, but it was suggestive of an "omega mass = 1' universe. [In other words, the mass density of the universe suggested it was flat and would only asymptotically expand to infinity.] Then we got data from the Hubble Space Telescope, and that made a huge difference, because it could peer much farther, to much higher redshift. That was the first time you started to see the data pull away from a flat universe, and it was suggestive.

The fact that we were not getting an omega mass of 1 started to imply to people that maybe there was an omega lambda [that is, a cosmological constant]. That was the first time we started to have that from our own data. This was the beginning of 1997.

Eventually we had 42 supernovae...."
It was only data from the Hubble Telescope that enabled them to gather enough data for the signal to emerge. This is exactly why canceling the James Webb Space Telescope would be a mistake for the advancement and prestige of American science. Yes, it's expensive, but big funding is how you get big discoveries and big prizes. Who could argue that, if all the Hubble ever did was provide the data to discover cosmic acceleration (and it has given a lot more than that) then it was not worth it?

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