Physicists in Maryland Share Nobel Prize; NASA Scientists 'Changed Everything' in Research of Universe's Origin

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Byline: Chrissie Thompson, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Two space scientists with Maryland connections will share the 2006 Nobel Prize in physics, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced yesterday.

John C. Mather, senior fellow at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, was named along with his colleague George F. Smoot for their work supporting the so-called "big bang" theory of the origin of the universe.

"I've always been excited to know, how did we get here?" said Mr. Mather, 60. "I wanted to know about the origin of life. This is my particular kind of contribution to this subject."

Mr. Mather and Mr. Smoot's research documented cosmic microwave background radiation. Big-bang theorists had pictured the universe after the big bang as a luminous body putting off this radiation across different wavelengths based on temperature, taking a shape known as blackbody radiation.

The laureates used NASA's Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite, launched in 1989, to document the existence of the blackbody spectrum, which matched hypotheses perfectly. When they presented their findings at the 1990 American Astronomical Society meeting, they received a standing ovation.

"To my recollection, that was the first standing ovation ever at an AAS meeting," said Ed Weiler, director of the Goddard Space Flight Center.

Mr. Mather has lived in the D.C. area for 30 years. Mr. Smoot, 61, commutes between his residences in Greenbelt and Berkeley, Calif., where he works at the University of California and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. …