Photo of Allan R. Sandage

Allan R. Sandage

  • National Medal of Science
  • Physical Sciences

For bringing the very limits of the universe within the reach of man’s awareness and unraveling the evolution of stars and galaxies–their origins and ages, distances and destinies.

In 1949, Allan Sandage – a self-described “hick who fell off the turnip truck” – became the assistant for Edwin Hubble, the astronomer after whom NASA’s famous space observatory is named.

At the time, Hubble was preparing to investigate a famous theory:

Assuming the universe was created in a Big Bang, could it disappear one day in a Big Crunch?

Soon after, Hubble died, leaving the fate of the cosmos in the hands of Sandage, then 27.

In 1961, Sandage explained how the state of the universe is found in two numbers: the cosmic expansion rate, and the deceleration parameter, which shows how fast expansion is being slowed.

The universe, he concluded, is not slowing down enough for a “Big Crunch” to occur.

“So the universe will continue to expand forever,” he said, “and the galaxies will get farther and farther apart, and things will just die. That’s the way it is.”