”I want to find the answers that aren’t on Google”

Article in Swedish abotu Hiranya Peiris. We have translated the first part of it. Original you can find here


”I want to find the answers that aren’t on Google”
Astrophysicist Hiranya Peiris hunts for the answers to how everything began and what is actually hidden behind the dark matter of the universe.

Text: Elin Liljero Eriksson – December 6, 2022
Saltsjöbaden Observatory. The roof rotates in the domed building.

Hiranya Peiris squints at a meter-sized gap that faces the sky and puts his hand on a nearly hundred-year-old telescope, Northern Europe’s largest.

  • When these instruments were built, we did not know that there were other galaxies around us, she says. It is humbling to be connected to history and reminded of how astronomy, one of the oldest fields of science, is constantly evolving and making new discoveries.

She is described as a cosmological superstar, awarded a number of international prizes and a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. As a professor of astrophysics and cosmoparticle physics, since 2016 Hiranya Peiris has divided his time between University College London and the internationally leading center for cosmology, the Oskar Klein Center at Stockholm University. Now she leads one of the decade’s most extensive international research projects in cosmology to find out what is hidden behind the dark matter in the universe.
But it’s mainly another mystery Hiranya Peiris couldn’t stop thinking about: the beginning of everything.

  • How was the universe actually born? It’s a pretty bold question to tackle, and one I’ve researched for years. At some point it has started, there is a lot of evidence for that. The earliest light we have been able to trace is from 380,000 years after the big bang, but what happened before that? How could the universe be born by itself? We are not entirely sure of that.

Why care about the universe’s past?

  • One of the reasons why we got out of the cave and into civilization is because we are curious about how the world works. Researching the past is a continuation of that research – trying to understand our world, what makes it go round and why we are here. Working at the cutting edge of a field and trying to find something that can’t be googled… It’s as challenging as it is satisfying.
    The success story of Hiranya Peiris begins under the black night sky of Sri Lanka, where the stars shone brightly. She was seven years old.
  • I got a telescope from dad. Every night I went outside to look at the moon, Mars, Jupiter and its moons. It was so fascinating. I was captured by the idea that there is so much we don’t have answers to.

She devoured science fiction books and in her teens joined an astronomy club for young amateurs. But the idea of getting an education in his great interest lingered.

  • I don’t come from a background where people became professors, my parents are both civil engineers. I didn’t even know this was something you could do. But I loved maths and luckily no teacher told me I couldn’t do it, which unfortunately too many girls are told otherwise.

The civil war in Sri Lanka made Hiranya Peiris move to London with his family at the age of 16. Here she studied computer science at Cambridge, until she heard that NASA was looking for summer interns. The summer at JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) in California, where they build and control satellites and space probes for NASA, changed everything.

  • I thought that the people who worked there had their dream job. They worked in teams and got to see things no one else had seen. After that summer there was no turning back for me, it was obvious to change course.

Hiranya Peiris has worked on some of the largest research projects in astronomy. She has been part of the teams behind both Planck and the NASA project WMAP, two of cosmology’s most important space telescopes, both of which mapped the cosmic background radiation. As part of WMAP – The Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe – she managed to get answers to a long-standing puzzle: the exact age of the universe.

  • By studying the earliest light we can see, we were able to calculate that the universe is 13.8 billion years old.