Here is my list of Top Olde-Timey Things I Will One Day Tell My Incredulous, Hypothetical Grandchildren to prove how very old I am and how much life has changed:

  • We used to write letters on paper and put them in metal boxes, from which actual human beings (in uniforms!) gathered them up and helped deliver them to their destinations.
  • Telephones used to be bolted to the wall, with dials attached, and they couldn't give you directions or even tell you which sushi place made the best avocado rolls.
  • We used to think that that the expansion of the universe was slowing down; that empty space was, basically, empty space; and that we had the majority of the stuff in the universe pretty much figured out.

The discovery that the expansion of the universe is not slowing down--that it is, in fact speeding up, driven by a mysterious "dark energy"--happened when I was in my first year of college. My astronomy professor was so excited about the discovery that we got to have class outside, under a tree, so that we could be closer to this nature thing that was turning out to be so full of baffling surprises.

Now that Saul Perlmutter, Brian Schmidt and Adam Riess have won the Nobel Prize for this discovery, it seems inconceivable that that moment under the tree--the time when we discovered that more than 70% of the universe was a complete mystery--is barely more than a decade old. How amazing that such a profound revelation happened in such recent history.

So as we at NOVA congratulate the winners of this year's Nobel Prize in physics, let's also celebrate living at a wonderful time in the history of science: A time when scientists are still busily mapping out the boundaries of what we don't know, and when the universe is ripe with questions, just waiting to be answered.

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