This morning 3 American astronomers received the call of a lifetime when they were notified by the Nobel committee that they would share the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics!
Prof. Adam Riess of The John Hopkins University/Space Telescope Science Institute, Prof. Saul Perlmutter of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory/UC Berkeley and Prof. Brian Schmidt, an American now working at the Australian National University, were recognized “for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe through observations of distant supernovae.”
In the 1920s, Edwin Hubble discovered that the Universe is expanding. He found that the further a galaxy is from us, the faster it moves away. If you play this movie backwards, it provides an independent piece of evidence that there was a Big Bang. Today, these 3 astronomers are being recognized for their 1998 discovery that the expansion of the universe is actually accelerating and not linear like Hubble discovered. This accelerating expansion is being driven by a mysterious force called "Dark Energy" about which little is known except that it makes up ~70% of the Universe! The group that discovers what Dark Energy actually is will likely also win the Nobel Prize in Physics.
That these 3 astronomers won the Nobel Prize for their work is not surprising since it was recognized immediately after publication that their result has a profound significance on our understanding regarding the evolution of our Universe. Indeed, both teams shared the 2007 Peter Gruber Foundation Cosmology Prize -- a gold medal and $500,000 -- and Science magazine dubbed their work as "The Breakthrough Discovery of the Year" in 1998.
Congratulations gentlemen on a very well-deserved honor!