Monday, September 10, 2007

SNAP, Crackle, Pop

Still 'Clueless' About Mystery Force Pushing Galaxies Apart

Dark energy entered the astronomical scene in 1998, after two groups of astronomers made a survey of exploding stars, or supernovas, in a number of distant galaxies. These researchers found that the supernovas were dimmer than they should have been, and that meant they were farther away than they should have been. The only way for that to happen, the astronomers realized, was if the expansion of the universe had sped up at some time in the past.

Until then, astronomers had generally believed that the cosmic expansion was gradually slowing down, due to the gravitational tugs that individual galaxies exert on one another. But the supernova results implied that some mysterious force was acting against the pull of gravity, causing galaxies to fly away from each other at ever greater speeds.

The supernova evidence suggests that the acceleration kicked in about 5 billion years ago. At that time, galaxies were far enough apart that their gravity (which weakens with distance) was overwhelmed by the relatively gentle but constant repulsive force of dark energy. Since then, dark energy's continuing push has allegedly been causing the cosmic expansion to speed up, and it seems likely now that this expansion will continue indefinitely.

Beyond Einstein is NASA's research roadmap for five proposed mission areas to study the most compelling questions at the intersection of physics and astronomy.

Of particular interest to researchers is whether the acceleration of the expansion of the universe varies over time. So far, three specific mission plans have been studied in this area: the Supernova Acceleration Probe (SNAP), the Dark Energy Space Telescope (DESTINY), and the Advanced Dark Energy Physics Telescope (ADEPT), but the eventual Joint Dark Energy Mission (JDEM) could be any one of the three or be based on a different option altogether.

The underlying technology for a dark energy mission is, for the most part, in the prototype phase, and will require less development than most of the other missions. The potential gains for JDEM also outweigh its scientific risks, such as the possibility that the mission may not provide substantial insight beyond that provided by telescopes on the ground. The report recommends that NASA and DOE proceed immediately with a competition for mission proposals that will investigate the nature of dark energy with high precision.
Hubble Telescope: Solved and Unsolved Mysteries By Q. Choi
So what is the Shape and Topology of the Universe - from Cosmos Magazine