UCB's Alex Filippenko to Discuss Ultimate Fate of the Universe

October 4, 1999

Tim Stephens
UCSC Public Information Office

SANTA CRUZ, CA: Recent observations of very distant exploding stars have provided evidence that the expansion of the universe is speeding up with time rather than slowing down as cosmologists had expected. These observations, called the Science Breakthrough of 1998 by Science magazine, revived the idea of a long-range “anti-gravity” effect in the Universe.

UC Berkeley astronomer Alex Filippenko, a prominent member of an international team that first reported these striking findings, will discuss their implications on Tuesday, October 26, in a public lecture at UC Santa Cruz. His talk, “Einstein’s Biggest Blunder? The Case for Cosmic ‘Anti-gravity,’” will begin at 8 p.m. in Classroom Unit 2 on the UC Santa Cruz campus. Admission is free.

Albert Einstein introduced the idea of a “cosmological constant,” a long-range repulsive effect in the universe, because he believed the universe to be static and recognized that gravity should make it contract. When Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe is actually expanding, Einstein renounced the cosmological constant, calling it the biggest blunder of his career. Ever since, cosmologists have assumed that the universe began in an expanding state (the Big Bang) and that gravity has gradually slowed down this expansion.

Now, however, Filippenko’s group and another independent team of researchers have found strong evidence that the expansion of the universe is actually accelerating with time. They based this startling conclusion on observations of very distant supernovae, exploding stars that shine very brightly and can be used as beacons for measuring great distances in the universe. In order to explain these findings, cosmologists have revived Einstein’s cosmological constant, a positive force countering the effect of gravity and propelling the continued expansion of the universe.

The implications are that the universe will expand forever and that space is geometrically flat on large scales. The age of the universe derived from this model is 14 billion years, consistent with the ages of the oldest known stars.

In his talk, Filippenko will present an overview of this research and discuss its implications. Filippenko’s research accomplishments have been recognized by several major awards, including the American Astronomical Society’s Pierce Prize and the Canadian Astronomical Society’s Petrie Prize. A dedicated and enthusiastic instructor, he has won the top teaching awards at UC Berkeley, and in 1995 was voted the “Best Professor” on campus in an informal student poll. Recently, he produced a 40-lecture video course on introductory astronomy with The Teaching Company.

Filippenko’s talk is the first of the Halliday Lectures, a new series of public lectures presented by UCSC’s Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics. The lecture series is supported by a gift from John and Layne Halliday. John Halliday is a trustee and former president of the UC Santa Cruz Foundation.

Parking is available in the lot at Hahn Student Services, down the hill from Classroom Unit 2, or at the East Field House. For more information, please call the UCSC Public Information Office at 831-459-2495.

Editor’s Notes:

This release is available electronically at the following Web site: http://press.ucsc.edu.

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