This diagram illustrates two ways to measure how fast the universe is expanding - the "standard candle" method, which involves exploded stars in galaxies, and the "standard ruler" method, which involves pairs of galaxies.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
ATLANTA — Solving the cosmic riddle of dark energy will require scientific creativity and funding for fundamental research, Nobel Prize-winning scientists said Monday (April 2).
In this era of tightening budgets and an emphasis on how science can help society, it's important to invest in basic research that doesn't have obvious applications, said Saul Perlmutter, one of the 2011 winners of the Nobel Prize in physics during a session here at the April 2012 meeting of the American Physics Society.
Perlmutter, a physicist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, helped discover that the universe's expansion is accelerating — a fact that scientists attribute to a mysterious entity dubbed dark energy. Perlmutter shared the prize with Adam Riess of Baltimore's Space Telescope Science Institute and Brian Schmidt of the Australian National University.
To figure out just what dark energy is, precise measurements of the distant universe are essential, Perlmutter said. Some of the complex instruments needed for these observations, such as Europe's Euclid space telescope and NASA's Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), are now being planned.
"Back 12 years ago when we first asked, 'OK, what are we going to do about the fact that we're seeing an accelerating universe?', it was very clear that it was going to be a good decade in front of us before we could get to the point where we can do these projects, " Perlmutter said. "I'm hoping we now move forward and get to see them produce the data."
"Right now with WFIRST delaying so much the Europeans are planning to fly a mission called Euclid, which could move ahead of ours, " Riess told SPACE.com. "We may reach a point where we had all this leadership in this field and we've ceded it. And that would be a shame, I think, because we have such a good start on it."
Who invented dark energy?
== Inventor of Dark Energy ==
No one invented dark energy. It is a possible property of the universe like gravity. The first person to conceive of an idea somewhat like the current idea of dark energy was Alan Guth.