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Kirshner, Robert P.

The extravagant Universe

Exploding stars, dark energy and the accelerating cosmos
Supernova expert Robert Kirshner brings readers inside a lively research team on the quest that led them to an extraordinary cosmological discovery: the expansion of the universe is accelerating under the influence of a dark energy that makes space itself expand.Measurements of light from exploding stars - some of them halfway across the universe - let these astronomers trace the history of cosmic expansion. The results have been amazing. Instead of a universe slowing down due to gravity as theory predicted, observations reveal a universe whose expansion is speeding up. This measurement of dark energy - a quality of space itself that causes cosmic acceleration - points to a gaping hole in our understanding of fundamental physics.In 1917, Einstein proposed the "cosmological constant" to explain a static universe. When observations proved that the universe was expanding, he cast this early form of dark energy aside. However, recent observations show that the cosmological constant - or something just like it - dominates the universe´s mass and energy budget and determines its fate and shape.Warned by Einstein´s blunder and contradicted by the initial results of a competing research team, Kirshner and his colleagues were reluctant to accept their own result. But, convinced by evidence built on their hard-earned understanding of exploding stars, they announced their conclusion that the universe is accelerating in February 1998. Other lines of inquiry and parallel supernova research now support a synthesis of a cosmos dominated by dark energy but also containing several forms of dark matter. We live in an extravagant universe with a surprising number of essential ingredients: the real universe we measure is not the simplest one we could imagine.

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