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2011 Nobel Prize in Physics for the Accelerating Universe

For the story behind this work see this article by T. Matheson and C. Smith “Role of NOAO in the Discovery of the Accelerating Universe” from NOAO/NSO newsletter Sept 2007 that details the role NOAO facilities, including the Blanco 4m and WIYN 3.5m, played in this exciting discovery.

NOAO Press Release 11-04: NOAO Telescopes Played Major Role in Nobel-Prize Winning Projects

Comments submitted by friends and colleagues:

Comments by Dr. Alistair Walker, former Director CTIO:

The Nobel Prize committee today announced that the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics has been won by three astronomers for the discovery that the expansion of the Universe is speeding up. Saul Perlmutter (Lawrence Berkeley National Lab) led the Supernova Cosmology Project while Brian Schmidt (Australian National University) and Adam Riess (Johns Hopkins/Space Telescope Science Institute) were leading members of the High-z Supernova Search team. Present (Chris Smith) and past (Mark Phillips, Nick Suntzeff, Mario Hamuy, Bob Schommer) CTIO staff members were also members of the High-z team. Both teams announced their results in 1998. This unexpected finding led to the idea that the acceleration is driven by the mysterious dark energy and that the Universe we see (stars etc) are a very minor component.

We can feel very proud at CTIO, for both teams used the Blanco telescope and prime focus imagers in the period 1994-1998 for some of their most critical observations. And prior to this, important precursor observations were made on the Curtis Schmidt telescope by Mario Hamuy and Jose Maza (U. Chile). CTIO staff, both scientific and technical, were crucial in providing the support that allowed these very difficult observations to be made successfully. At that time, the Blanco telescope plus Big Throughput Camera was the most powerful CCD camera in the world, and with the Dark Energy Camera and later LSST, we will continue to play a leadership role in such exciting studies.

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El comité del Premio Nobel anunció hoy que el Premio Nobel de Física 2011 ha sido ganado por tres astrónomos, por el descubrimiento de que la expansión del Universo se está acelerando. Saul Perlmutter (Laboratorio Nacional Lawrence Berkeley) lideró el Proyecto Cosmológico Supernova, mientras que Brian Schmidt (Universidad Nacional Australiana) y Adam Riess (Johns Hopkins/ Instituto Científico del Observatorio Espacial) fueron los miembros líderes del equipo de Búsqueda de Supernovas High-z. Miembros del staff actual de CTIO (Chris Smith) y antiguos miembros (Mark Phillips, Nick Suntzeff, Mario Hamuy, Bob Schommer) fueron también parte del equipo High-z. Ambos equipos anunciaron sus resultados en 1998. Este descubrimiento inesperado llevó a la idea de que la aceleración es manejada por la misteriosa energía oscura, y que el Universo que vemos (estrellas, etc) son un componente muy menor.

Nos debemos sentir muy orgullosos en CTIO, ya que ambos equipos usaron el telescopio Blanco y cámaras de foco primario en el período 1994-1998 para algunas de sus observaciones más importantes. Y anterior a ello, importantes observaciones precursoras fueron realizadas en el telescopio Curtis Schmidt por Mario Hamuy y José Maza (U. de Chile). Tanto el staff científico y técnico de CTIO fue crucial en proveer el apoyo para que estas muy complejas observaciones fueran realizadas en forma exitosa. En esa época el telescopio Blanco más la Cámara de Gran Rendimiento, eran la más poderosa cámara CCD en el mundo, y con la Cámara de Energía Oscura y posteriormente con el LSST, continuaremos jugando un rol de liderazgo en tan interesante estudio.

From Brian Schmidt, High-z team

Thanks to the staff of NOAO and especially CTIO for their seminal role in our discovery of the Accelerating Universe.

The CTIO staff, along with their Chilean counterparts, and their work on showing SN Ia could be used to measure distances, was the key to launching the High-Z SN Search. The actual program was hatched in 1994 when I was visiting CTIO on an observing run on the 1.5m, and Nick Suntzeff and I decided to push forward this grand plan to measure cosmic deceleration. The CTIO 4m was the perfect telescope in 1995 to do this, and the rest is history.

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