BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Johns Hopkins astrophysicist Charles Bennett, who headed up a team that unlocked secrets about the universe, has been named a recipient of the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics.
Their work established the Standard Model of Cosmology — “a precise, physics-based description of the contents, dynamics, and shape of the universe.”
“The breakthrough award was awarded for what we learned about the universe from a satellite we flew called WMAP”, Bennett tells WJZ.
NASA put WMAP in orbit in 2001, and for the next 12 years it surveyed the microwave glow left over from The Big Bang.
Among the discoveries, according to Bennett, “this light has been traveling for 13.8 billion years, so it’s carrying directly with it a picture of what the early universe was like.”
Bennett’s team determined it took 200 million years after The Big Bang for the first stars to blaze to life. The hot and cool spots of the microwave glow also revealed components that make up the universe. Seventy percent is made up of dark energy, which continues to expand the universe outward. Twenty-five percent is dark matter, invisible because it interacts with gravity instead of light. And only 5 percent is made up of atoms, the building blocks of everything from galaxies to all life on earth.
Bennett’s team’s next goal is to build and install four microwave telescopes on a mountaintop in Chile, and look for The Big Bang itself.
“The end goal is the beginning,” he says. “It’s very difficult, we don’t know what we’ll find, but that’s where the cutting edge is.”
Bennett is the third member of the Johns Hopkins faculty to receive the Breakthrough Prize since it was first awarded in 2012.
Janet Weiland, a Johns Hopkins University research scientist, also will share in the prize, as will two former Johns Hopkins University post-doctoral fellows who worked with Bennett, David Larson and Ben Gold.
The prize is worth $3 million and Bennett received it Sunday night at a ceremony in Palo Alto, California.