Three U.S.-born scientists won the Nobel Prize in physics Tuesday for their studies that show the universe is expanding at an accelerated pace.
Scientists Saul Perlmutter, Brian Schmidt and Adam Riess found that light from more than 50 distant exploding stars was far weaker than they expected, meaning that galaxies had to be racing away from each other at increasing speed.
The acceleration is driven by what scientists call dark energy, a cosmic force that is one of the great mysteries of the universe.
The trio made their discovery after working on two different research teams in the 1990s.
The Nobel-winning discovery implies instead that the universe will get increasingly colder as matter spreads across ever-vaster distances in space, according to Lars Bergstrom, secretary of the Nobel physics committee.
"The research implies that billions of years from now, the universe will become "a very, very large, but very cold and lonely place," said Charles Blue, spokesman for the American Institute of Physics.
"In contrast to the big bang, that fate has been called the 'big rip' to indicate how galaxies would be torn apart," he said.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said Perlmutter would receive half of the 10 million kronor ($1.5 million) award, with Riess and Schmidt splitting the other half.
Perlmutter, 52, heads the Supernova Cosmology Project at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and University of California, Berkeley.
Schmidt, 44, heads the High-z Supernova Search Team at the Australian National University in Weston Creek, Australia.
Riess, 41, is an astronomy professor at Johns Hopkins University and Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.