Why Didn’t They Win? 10 Huge Discoveries Without a Nobel Prize

Why Didn’t They Win? 10 Huge Discoveries Without a Nobel Prize

If we’re digging into history, there are many astronomical discoveries worthy of a Nobel Prize, including Kepler’s laws of planetary motion, the early 20th-century determination that the universe is expanding, and the classification of stars by their spectral fingerprints. But the discovery of dark matter is the modern achievement that has perhaps been most grossly overlooked by the Nobel Prize committee.

In the 1970s Vera Rubin and Kent Ford saw that stars at the edges of galaxies moved as quickly as the stars near the middle—in other words, these galaxies were rotating so fast that they should be flying apart … unless something invisible was contributing to the gravity holding them together.

That something invisible has come to be known as dark matter—a mysterious substance comprising as much as 90 percent of the mass in the universe. It doesn’t emit or reflect light or interact with ordinary matter in any way.

Because of its stealthy, slippery nature, the dark matter particle itself has remained elusive. In other words, scientists aren’t sure what this stuff is, exactly. And that uncertainty may be why the discovery hasn’t been recognized by the Nobel committee, even though the 2011 physics prize went to a similarly enigmatic cosmological discovery.

—Nadia Drake, Phenomena blog: No Place Like Home

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