A map of the cosmic microwave background made by NASA's WMAP (Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe) mission, with color differences showing fluctuations Of temperature.
A team of researchers that helped shape our understanding of the origin, evolution and nature of the cosmos is now $ 3 million richer.
These people worked on NASA's WMAP space mission, which was awarded the 2018 Revelation Award in Fundamental Physics today (December 3) during a ceremony in Palo Alto, California.
From 2001 to 2009, WMAP mapped the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the light left by the Big Bang, with unprecedented precision. This work allowed scientists to determine the age of the universe (about 13,800 million years), its speed of accelerated expansion (approximately 70 kilometers per second per megaparsec) and its basic composition (about 5% of "normal" matter, 24% of dark matter and 71 percent of dark energy). [Dark Matter and Dark Energy: The Mystery Explained (Infographic)]
Astronomers had obtained pieces of this general image before, from a variety of different observations. But WMAP, which is the abbreviation of Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, allowed them to unite everything, said mission principal investigator Chuck Bennett, based at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland.
"I think that the great impact of WMAP was to go from a kind of collection of diverse facts and approximate numbers of a single theory or model that says:" This is exactly what is happening. Here are the numbers, "Bennett told Space.com." And everything agrees with them, all the different and diverse measures. "
WMAP team member David Spergel, astrophysicist at Princeton University, expressed opinions Similar  "I see the legacy as the establishment of the standard model and the creation of quantitative cosmology," Spergel told Space.com. "There have been improvements in measurements since WMAP, but I think we provide a very solid foundation on which the field is being built. "
These improvements were largely provided by the Planck spacecraft of the European Space Agency, which mapped the CMB from 2009 to 2013. The Planck data has been reinforced and refined, instead of challenged, the results of WMAP.
"It's impressive that these independent experiments get the same response, it feels good," Spergel said. "And we get consistent measurements from the ground."
Bennett, Sperge He and three other WMAP leaders, Gary Hinshaw of the University of British Columbia and Norman Jarosik and Lyman Page Jr. of Princeton, will get the biggest cuts of the $ 3 million prize, said the Breakthrough Award representatives. The rest will be divided among the other 22 members of the mission's experimental team.
This is not the first time that WMAP has been recognized for its contributions to physics and cosmology. The mission also won the prestigious Shaw Astronomy Award in 2010 and the Gruber Cosmology Award in 2012.
The Breakthrough Award in Science and Mathematics was founded in 2012 by Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, Sergey Brin, Anne Wojcicki and Yuri. Julia Milner Each year, it awards prizes of $ 3 million in the fields of Fundamental Physics, Life Sciences and Mathematics, the largest individual monetary awards in science. (By way of comparison: each 2017 Nobel Prize was worth 9 million Swedish crowns, or approximately $ 1.1 million at the current exchange rate.)
The WMAP researchers were not the only ones to be recognized at today's ceremony, which It was organized by Morgan Freeman and featured appearances by actors Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher and hip-hop artist Wiz Khalifa, among other celebrities. Five $ 3 million prizes were also announced in the field of Life Sciences and a $ 3 million prize in the field of Mathematics, as well as several smaller handbags in other categories.
The total value of recently announced prizes exceeds $ 22 million, representatives of the Breakthrough Award said
"The idea that science is important, science is something that shapes our understanding of the universe in which we live, and that this is recognized, it is expected to motivate schoolchildren and generate public interest in support of science, "said Bennett. .