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Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Accelerating Universe - a talk by Professor Brian Schmidt

Well, I wasn't going to post this, but how often does one get the chance to sit and listen to a Nobel Prizewinner in Physics? He managed to explain stuff which I know very little about (that's not the hard part). And more importantly, I came out thinking that it makes sense.

This guy really is a genius, or a magician, or both. He is a wine-maker, so perhaps both, eh?

It was a very interesting lecture, and you can even ask me why the Universe is flat, not curved, or "closed" (as in a globe). Right now I could possibly give you a few sentences which might make sense.

 That's why I have to write this Blog post now, because in the morning, it will all be a distant glow of light, as from a galaxy far, far away. 

The Royal Society of New South Wales

Southern Highlands Branch 19th July 2012 Lecture

Professor Brian Schmidt

Topic: The Accelerating Universe.

In 1998 two teams, one led by Saul Perlmutter from the Supernova Cosmology Project and the High-z supernova Search Team led by Brian Schmidt and Adam Riess traced back the expansion of the universe over billions of years and discovered that it was accelerating. It was (is) a startling discovery that suggests that more than 70% of the cosmos is contained in a previously unknown form of matter, called Dark Energy.

Professor Brian Schmidt described this discovery and explained how astronomers have used observations to trace our universe’s history back more than 13 billion years, leading them to ponder the ultimate fate of the cosmos.

"The team's observations were contrary to the current theory that the expansion of the Universe should be slowing down; on the contrary, by monitoring the brightness and measuring the redshift of the supernovae, they discovered that these billion-year old exploding stars and their galaxies were accelerating away from our reference frame. This result was also found nearly simultaneously by the Supernova Cosmology Project, led by Saul Perlmutter. The corroborating evidence between the two competing studies led to the acceptance of the accelerating universe theory and initiated new research to understand the nature of the universe, such as the existence of dark energy."
Source: Wikipedia

Having listened to Brian Schmidt for about an hour and a half, with my friend Angela, she then sent me a link to a videoed lecture on a related topic by Laurence Krauss, a particle physicist, with an interest in Cosmology.

There is an introduction by Richard Dawkins. The first 4 minutes refer to the atheist debate (although this youtube talk is given in America, Angela heard Krauss speak at the recent Global Atheist Conference 2012, in Melbourne. Krauss is a particle physicist, so he has a  different emphasis from that of Schmidt.

My own starting point on Cosmology was what little I learnt from the writings of the American Jesuit theologian, Frederick Copleston, especially in his "History of Philosophy". Being an American theologian, from the 1950s and 60s, he was deeply conservative, and of course, his basis of approach was looking back to Aristotle and Aquinas, not upwards and outwards, as happens now.

I was very pleased to hear Brian Schmidt refer to himself as an "observer". Lawrence Krauss uses the same terminology. As an observer of Nature myself (even on a small scale), I feel comfortable with that approach.


Brigid O'Carroll Walsh said...

I want to see Mrs Schmidt get a medal for services to the nation. This Australian woman had the wit and prescience to marry a future Nobel winner and get him to Australia whereby we could claim him as our own! If only we had more women like her ... we might have more Nobels under our belt!

Denis Wilson said...

Well, Brian did acknowledge his wife's influence.