A Universe Throttling Up

Astrophysicist Adam Riess talks about his Nobel-winning discovery that the expansion of the universe is accelerating.


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Riess: When I started my thesis, I was not thinking in those terms. But by the end, it became something we were all thinking about doing. I just thought it was so interesting, to be able to make measurements of the universe. And to address basic questions, like how old is the universe and what is it made of. It just seemed like an interesting project.

Air & Space: Are you focused on figuring out the fate of the universe or are you also investigating dark energy?

Riess: Mostly at this point we’re working on dark energy. Understanding what will happen to the universe requires us to understand dark energy.  

Air & Space: How far along are you in that research?

Riess: We’re making progress by making more observations, more measurements, to more and more constrain the properties of dark energy, but we’ve got a long way to go before we have a very strong constraint on the nature of dark energy. 

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?

Riess: Yeah, the U.S. is looking to build one called WFIRST [the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope] and the European Space Agency is looking to build one called Euclid.  

Air & Space: Could the James Webb Space Telescope help?

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