A Universe Throttling Up
Astrophysicist Adam Riess talks about his Nobel-winning discovery that the expansion of the universe is accelerating.
- By Heather Goss
- AirSpaceMag.com, November 01, 2011
Photo: Will Kirk/The Johns Hopkins University
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Air & Space: What sort of obstacles do you face?
Riess: One thing is, we need telescopes that are largely dedicated to this problem. Most of the telescopes we use, their time is divided amongst the whole community looking at all the other things that people want to look at. In order to really make headway with dark energy, we probably need a dedicated space mission that would spend most of its time or a large fraction of its time studying dark energy.
Air & Space: Are some of those in the works?
Air & Space: Could the James Webb Space Telescope help?
Riess: The Webb telescope will help, but it’s not right in its wheelhouse. It was designed to do other things before we even knew about dark energy. You really need wide-angle capability to be able to make a lot of inroads. So Webb can do some things towards it, some investigations, but it’s not going to be able to give us the answers we’re looking for. That would require a dedicated dark energy mission.
Air & Space: We’re a long way from understanding dark energy, but are there any properties you can talk about?
Riess: We’re talking more or less about its strength, how much push you get on the universe for, let’s say, a cubic centimeter of dark energy. That’s a property we’re trying to measure called the ‘equation of state.’ If we measure that better, we think it’ll give us a better idea of dark energy.
Air & Space: After you were awarded the MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” in 2008, I read that you hoped to use the money for a new kind of telescope filter. Did you?
Riess: Yeah, they’re specialized kind of filters that would enhance the light of supernovae when you saw them and help you indentify supernovae faster. I’m working with a graduate student on that project right now.
Air & Space: Where do you hope to see this research in 10 years?
Riess: I’d like to see it make a lot of progress. If we can make as much progress studying dark energy as we did in the last 10 years I think that’ll be pretty impressive. Hopefully we can get to the point where we’ve measured some of the basic properties of dark energy to about one percent precision, and I think that’s within reach if we end up using a dedicated facility like a space telescope.