American astronomer Adam Riess initially thought his Nobel-prize winning discovery that the expansion of the universe is speeding up was a mistake.
Riess shared the physics prize on Tuesday with Saul Perlmutter and Brian Schmidt. They were honoured for their observations of exploding stars that transformed our view of the world, and of how it may end.
“I assumed I had made some mistakes and spent a long time analysing that and could not find a mistake,” Riess said during a teleconference with reporters, adding that he then asked Schmidt and finally his research team to also review his work.
“None of us could really find what was wrong and at some point we decided maybe this was the way the universe really was, it wasn’t slowing down it was speeding up,” he said.
The astronomers work had shown how the universe that emerged from the Big Bang may fly apart so far, cooling as it goes, and that it “will end in ice”, the Nobel Committee said.
It also gave birth to the theory of dark energy, a kind of inverse gravity, that causes the expansion to accelerate. Up to three-quarters of the universe seems to be composed of dark energy — but just what it is is a matter of speculation.
Riess was cautious about the prediction that the world would eventually freeze up into “ice” without energy.
“It’s also possible that dark energy is a more complicated phenomenon and that we’ll still get some change or some transition, in which case I would say all bets are still off for the universe,” he said.
Riess, who was still in his 20s when the groundbreaking research was published and is now a professor of physics and astronomy at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said he was already awake when he got the early morning call telling him he had won the Nobel prize.
“My 10-month-old son was making some yips and yaps because he hasn’t been sleeping well and I was listening to that hoping he would fall asleep, thinking it must be 2am or 3am in the morning and then the phone rang,” he said.
“I immediately looked at the clock and I was surprised it was 5:30am,” he said. “I immediately thought ‘isn’t that when you are supposed to get the famous call?'” — Reuters