The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation has announced a $2.1 million grant to the University of California, Berkeley in support of a project to study dark energy in the universe with unprecedented precision.
Awarded to the Berkeley Center for Cosmological Physics, the grant will support the development of revolutionary technologies for BigBOSS (Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey), a project based at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory that is part of a larger effort to create a three-dimensional map of space using 1.5 million galaxies and tens of thousands of quasars. Although it is not well understood, dark energy appears to account for nearly three-quarters of the mass-energy of the universe and is the cause of its accelerating expansion. Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley astrophysicist Saul Perlmutter, leader of the Supernova Cosmology Project, and Brian Schmidt and Adam Riess of the competing High-Z Supernova Search team, first announced that the universe was expanding at an accelerating rate in 1998 and shared the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics for their discovery.
BigBOSS would measure "baryon acoustic oscillations" (BAO) — regular variations in the density of mass in the universe — which are evident in the netlike tendrils and voids of visible galaxies and intergalactic gas. Although ordinary matter comprises only 5 percent of the mass-energy in the universe, its large-scale distribution maps that of underlying dark matter, another 20 percent of the total, and echoes the minute temperature variations of ancient cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB). The recurring peaks in density of BAO, from the Big Bang to the present, represent marks on a standard ruler of the cosmos that can be used to measure its history of expansion from earliest times to the present.
"BigBOSS is the next big thing in cosmology," said Uroš Seljak, BCCP director and UC Berkeley professor of physics and astronomy. "It would map millions and millions of galaxies, allowing us to measure dark energy to high precision — and would yield other important scientific results as well, including determining neutrino mass and the number of neutrino families."