2018 Gruber Cosmology Prize Awarded to Planck Mission

Planck instrumentThe team of scientists behind the European Space Agency’s Planck mission has been awarded the prestigious 2018 Gruber Cosmology Prize. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, played a key role in the design and construction of the Planck instrument, and in the scientific analysis of the mission’s data.

The Gruber International Prize Program is sponsored by the Gruber Foundation, based at Yale University. The Cosmology Prize “honors a leading cosmologist, astronomer, astrophysicist or scientific philosopher for theoretical, analytical, conceptual or observational discoveries leading to fundamental advances in our understanding of the universe.”

Launched in 2009, the Planck satellite spent 4 years making a high-resolution map of the oldest light in the universe, the cosmic microwave background (CMB), emitted 13.8 billion years ago when the universe was only 470,000 years old, giving us a “baby picture” of the cosmos.

This map allows researchers to learn about the entire 13.8-billion-year history of the universe, including its age, rate of expansion, and the distribution of mass and energy throughout. While Planck is not the first mission to map the microwave background, it did so with unprecedented angular resolution, sensitivity, and frequency coverage, producing the most accurate and detailed CMB map ever made.

JPL is managed by Caltech, also in Pasadena. Caltech’s science and data center for astronomy, IPAC, hosted the U.S. Data Center for Planck.

The $500,000 prize will be divided between Planck’s principal investigators, Nazzareno Mandolesi and Jean-Loup Puget, and “the Planck team.” Hundreds of scientists have contributed to various aspects of the mission; a smaller group will represent the Planck team and accept the prize money. More than 300 scientists and engineers from the Planck mission, including many from JPL and IPAC, will accept the Gruber Prize at the 30th General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union in Vienna, Austria, this August.

The Gruber Prize was also awarded to two previous NASA missions that mapped the CMB: the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE), launched in 1989, and the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), launched in 2001.