John C. Mather, a senior astrophysicist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and senior project scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), has won the 2006 Nobel Physics Prize.
Mather shares the prize with George F. Smoot, a professor of physics at the University of California at Berkeley, for work that helped solidify the Big Bang theory for the origin of the universe. Mather and Smoot were members of a science team that used NASA's Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite to measure the diffuse microwave background radiation, which is considered a relic of the Big Bang.
The COBE satellite was launched on Nov. 18, 1989, and involved more than 1,000 researchers, engineers, and scientists.
COBE team member Michael Hauser, deputy director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, said: "I was surprised and delighted to learn of the award of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics to John Mather and George Smoot for their discoveries of the blackbody form and anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation with NASA's COBE satellite. As a member of the COBE science team, I take great pride in this recognition of the COBE contribution to cosmological research."
This is the second award in several months that has acknowledged the work of the COBE science team. In August, the COBE team was awarded the Peter Gruber Foundation's 2006 Cosmology Prize. The annual Gruber Prize, co-sponsored by the International Astronomical Union, recognizes those who have contributed fundamental advances in the field of cosmology.
When the JWST is launched in 2013, it will probe some of the earliest stars in the galaxy that were born after the Big Bang. JWST will look deep into the cosmos to probe some of the earliest stars. The spacecraft will search for extrasolar planets and will explore the birth and death of stars and the birth and evolution of galaxies.
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Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md.
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Credit: NASA and Goddard Space Flight Center