The Gruber Foundation, a Type 1 supporting organization operated by Yale University, has announced the recipients of the 2014 Gruber Cosmology Prize, which recognizes theoretical, analytical, conceptual, or observational discoveries leading to fundamental advances in our understanding of the universe.
The $500,000 prize was awarded to Jaan Einasto, Kenneth Freeman, R. Brent Tully, and Sidney van den Bergh for their individual roles in the development of Near Field Cosmology. Operating independently of one another, the four astronomers studied the Milky Way, galaxies in the Local Group (which includes the Milky Way), and other nearby objects, making discoveries that have led to two fundamental changes in our interpretation of the universe: that, on the largest scales, the universe resembles a web of neurons — vast filaments of galaxies and superclusters of galaxies separated by even vaster voids; and that this structure would not be possible if the universe didn’t have an invisible gravitational component — what we now call dark matter.
Now retired, van den Bergh, who spent much of his career at the University of Toronto and the National Research Council of Canada's Dominion Astrophysical Observatory in Victoria, British Columbia, used variable stars to determine the distance to the neighboring Andromeda galaxy, thereby establishing one of the first rungs on the "cosmic distance ladder" that astronomers now use to measure the size of the universe. Tully, who has been an astronomer at the University of Hawaii since 1975, rose to prominence with the publication of a 1977 paper, written with J. Richard Fisher, proposing a relationship between the mass of galaxies and their luminosities. Freeman, who is affiliated with the Australian National University's Mount Stromlo Observatory, was one of the first astronomers to recognize the role and importance of dark matter in spiral galaxies. Einasto, who has been at Tartu Observatory in Tõravere, Estonia, since his days as an undergraduate in the late 1940s, has made dark matter his specialty.
"We want to recognize their pioneering contributions to the understanding of the structure and composition of the nearby universe," says Wendy Freedman, chair of the selection advisory board to the Gruber Prize. "Their decades-long observations and analyses of relatively local galaxies have allowed cosmologists — including themselves — to investigate the evolution of the universe on the largest scales."