Universe’s baby picture wins $3 million

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By Zeeya Merali

Astrophysicists who captured an image of the Big Bang’s afterglow — and confirmed the standard model of cosmology — won a US $3-million Breakthrough Prize on 3 December.

The team behind NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) provided key evidence backing the theory that the cosmos is composed mainly of dark energy and dark matter, with a small serving of ordinary matter.

“It is a well-deserved award for an amazing experiment,” says astrophysicist Andrew Jaffe at Imperial College London, who is a member of the team behind the rival European Space Agency’s Planck satellite. “The WMAP experiment is the one that made our current cosmological paradigm almost impossible to get out of.”

The prizes, which total $22 million, were announced at a glamorous ceremony hosted by actor Morgan Freeman at the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. Other prizes were awarded for work in the life sciences and mathematics. The initiative was set up six years ago by Google founder Sergey Brin, Internet entrepreneur Yuri Milner, artist Julia Milner, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, paediatrician and philanthropist Priscilla Chan and Anne Wojcicki, founder of genomics company 23andMe. Previous laureates judged the entries.

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