Date: April 21, 2002 Contacts: Nicole Ruediger, Media Relations Officer Christian Dobbins, Media Relations Assistant (202) 334-2138; e-mail <firstname.lastname@example.org>
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Astronomy, Physics Partnership Is Key To Unraveling Mysteries of Universe
In a surprising turn of events, two research teams recently found that the expansion of the universe is speeding up, not slowing down. Scientists attribute this acceleration to repulsive gravity -- pushing matter apart rather than pulling it together -- from "dark energy," a hidden force that accounts for two-thirds of all matter and energy in the universe. A new class of large, wide-field telescopes would allow scientists to explore this mysterious force, says a new report from the National Research Council of the National Academies. The report maps out a new cross-disciplinary, interagency research strategy for physics and astronomy to answer the most profound questions about the cosmos in the coming decades.
Exploring the properties of dark energy through wide-field telescopes located in space and on the ground may help scientists predict the eventual fate of the universe and acquire fundamental information about the nature of matter, space, and time. They could view a thousand times more of the sky, collect data faster than currently possible, and study how dark energy is affecting the expansion rate of the universe. Supernovas -- incredibly bright phenomena that result from the explosion of a star -- would be used as cosmic distance markers. The development of these telescopes and other projects would require interagency cooperation by the U.S. Department of Energy, NASA, and the National Science Foundation so resources could be better focused, the committee added.
"Recent advances made by physicists in understanding matter, space, and time and by astronomers in understanding the universe as a whole have paved the way to answer the really big questions," said Michael Turner, chair of the committee that wrote the report, and chair, department of astronomy and astrophysics, University of Chicago, Ill. "To make further progress, we must develop a research agenda that focuses on physicists and astronomers doing collaborative projects rather than working separately."
A research and development program should also be initiated to begin planning for an unmanned space mission to study the polarization of radiation left over from the big bang. This research could allow scientists to better understand the birth of the universe by detecting the effects of initial ripples in the fabric of space-time. The existence of these tiny space-time ripples is presumed by the cosmic inflation theory, which is the favored model by scientists to explain the initial, rapid stage of the universe's growth from its earliest moments to an entity full of galaxies, clusters of galaxies, voids, and great walls of galaxies.
High priority also should be given to constructing a deep underground laboratory, the committee said. Its depth would allow scientists to conduct experiments that are impossible to undertake in a traditional laboratory because of the constant interference from particles hitting Earth from outer space. A wide variety of measurements indicate that the universe contains more matter than is visible through telescopes. The presence of this additional mass, known as dark matter, is inferred through its gravitational influence on the motion of visible objects, such as stars and galaxies. Scientists can see the effects of dark matter, but its nature is a mystery. Some of the research to detect the makeup of dark matter needs to be done deep underground, at depths approaching several thousand feet. The report also highlighted the benefits of an underground laboratory to cutting-edge research on elementary particles called neutrinos and on the stability of the proton.
The study was funded by NASA, U.S. Department of Energy, and the National Science Foundation. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit institution that provides science and technology advice under a congressional charter. A committee roster follows.
NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences Board on Physics and Astronomy
Committee on the Physics of the Universe
Michael S. Turner* (chair) Scientist II Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, and Professor Department of Physics, and Professor and Chair Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics University of Chicago Chicago
Eric G. Adelberger* Professor Experimental Nuclear Physics and Astrophysics University of Washington Seattle
Arthur I. Bienenstock Professor Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory Department of Applied Physics and Department of Materials Science and Engineering Stanford University Stanford, Calif.
Roger D. Blandford Richard Chace Tolman Professor of Theoretical Astrophysics Division of Physics, Mathematics, and Astronomy California Institute of Technology Pasadena
Thomas K. Gaisser Professor Bartol Research Institute University of Delaware Newark
Fiona Harrison Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy California Institute of Technology Pasadena
John P. Huchra* Professor of Astronomy Harvard University, and Senior Astronomer Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Cambridge, Mass.
John C. Mather* Project Scientist Next Generation Space Telescope, and Senior Astrophysicist NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Greenbelt, Md.
John Peoples Jr. Director Sloan Digital Sky Survey, and Senior Scientist II Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory Batavia, Ill.
Helen R. Quinn Theoretical Physicist Stanford Linear Accelerator Center Stanford, Calif.
R.G. Hamish Robertson Professor Department of Physics University of Washington Seattle
Bernard Sadoulet Professor of Physics, and Director Center for Particle Astrophysics University of California Berkeley
Frank J. Sciulli Professor of Physics Nevis Laboratories Columbia University Irvington, N.Y.
Harvey D. Tananbaum Director Chandra X-Ray Center Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Cambridge, Mass.
J. Anthony Tyson* Distinguished Member of the Technical Staff Optical Physics Research Department Bell Laboratories Lucent Technologies Murray Hill, N.J.
Frank A. Wilczek* Herman Feshbach Professor of Physics Center for Theoretical Physics Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge
Clifford M. Will Professor and Chair Department of Physics Washington University St. Louis
Bruce D. Winstein* Samuel K. Allison Distinguished Service Professor Department of Physics, and Enrico Fermi Institute University of Chicago Chicago
Edward L. Wright Professor Department of Astronomy University of California Los Angeles
RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF
Joel Parriott Study Director * Member, National Academy of Sciences