La Sapienza - Università di Roma

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The Planck Space Telescope, which was developed in collaboration with Sapienza University, has received the prestigious Gruber Cosmology Prize on May 10. The award was presented to a delegation from the Sapienza Department of Physics and various other European scientists, including Principal Investigators Nazzareno Mandolesi (University of Ferrara) and Jean Loup Puget (Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale, Orsay) for the Planck Experiment.

The Gruber Foundation is a non-profit foundation seated at Yale University that presents awards to important theoretical and observational discoveries that lead to fundamental progress in understanding our universe. This is the first time that the prize is presented to a European-lead experiment. 

The Planck Experiment is a space telescope developed by various European scientists in collaboration with the European Space Agency, national space agencies and the fundamental contribution of the Italian Space Agency. Moreover, the Observational Cosmology Team at the Sapienza Department of Physics, directed by Paolo de Bernardis, Silvia Masi, Alessandro Melchiorri and Francesco Piacentini played a primary role in the development of the project. In synergy with Galileo Avionica and with funding from the Italian Space Agency, the researchers developed the high-frequency sensor cryogenic pre-amplifiers and contributed to the analyses and scientific exploitation of the data produced by the two on-board devices. 

Launched in 2009, the Planck Space Observatory operated for 4 years at 1.5 million kilometres from Planet Earth. From its privileged point of view, it developed highly-accurate 9-microwave frequency maps of the cosmos that yielded definitive measurements concerning the expansion of the universe and, in particular, its geometry, dynamics, composition and large-scale structures. Indeed, some of the measurements of the cosmological parameters performed by the Planck Telescope reached a precision greater than 1%, introducing what we may refer to as “precision cosmology.”

The universe described by the data collected by the Planck Telescope underwent an inflationary expansion right after the big bang and still contains significant proportions of dark matter and energy. The maps are so precise that the reveal some low-scale deviations from the reference model on which much work still remains to be done.