WWU's Ken Rines receives grant for 'dark energy' astronomy research

Western Washington University Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy Ken Rines has been awarded $35,000 from the Research Corporation for Science Advancement for use into dark energy and galaxy cluster research.

Rines research involves observing galaxy clusters using optical spectroscopy. The galaxy clusters Rines will study are about five billion light years away, so the light detected from them shows how they looked 5 billion years ago. By comparing galaxy clusters of the past to present ones, Rines will observe how their evolution is influenced by dark energy – a hypothetical form of energy that permeates all of space.

According to Rines, galaxy clusters have more mass in the present than in the past because of their gravitational field. However, dark energy works to pull mass away from clusters in a sort of tug-of-war.

“Dark energy is a fairly recent discovery and has some bizarre consequences,” Rines said. “By measuring how fast the clusters are growing, we hope to find out when dark energy starts to win this tug-of-war.”

In addition to his research, Rines’ grant will provide funding for student-research assistantships, travel to national and international observatories to gather data, and additional resources.

Rines received a doctorate in Astronomy from Harvard in 2003 and did postdoctoral work at Yale and Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory before beginning his faculty position at WWU in 2008. He has been featured in several media outlets including Science News, BBC News, USA Today and MSNBC.

For more information, contact Rines at (360) 650-7944 or ken.rines@wwu.edu.