R. Brent Tully

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa astronomer R. Brent Tully is one of four recipients of the 2014 Gruber Foundation Cosmology Prize for his role in understanding the structure and evolution of the nearby universe.

At the UH Mānoa Institute for Astronomy since 1975, Tully came to prominence with the publication of a 1977 paper, written with J. Richard Fisher, proposing a relationship between the masses of galaxies and their luminosities—by measuring the mass of a galaxy, researchers know the galaxy’s true brightness and by comparing the true brightness with its observed brightness, they’ll know its distance. The “Tully-Fisher relation” remains a standard tool in astronomy to this day. It has allowed astronomers to determine distances to galaxies, the key measurement that allows us to view the universe in three dimensions.

In 1988, Tully published The Nearby Galaxies Catalog, along with the Nearby Galaxies Atlas, the first major attempt to illustrate the three-dimensional distribution of galaxies. Using 3D locations approximated from redshifts (the lengthening of wavelengths of light as objects move away from Earth) and a simple model, he mapped the locations of 2,400 nearby galaxies. At intervals, Tully has also published catalogs of directly measured distances. The most recent, released in 2013, provides distances for over 8,000 galaxies, which is the largest assembly of distances currently available.

Tully shares the $500,000 prize with Jaan Einasto (Tartu Observatory, Estonia), Kenneth Freeman (Australian National University) and Sidney van den Bergh, a retired Canadian astronomer. The prize will be presented to them in a ceremony at Yale University on October 1, 2014.

Their award-winning work on the nearby universe emerged during a period when cutting-edge cosmology was focused on the farthest reaches of the universe. This work, however, stayed closer to home and the present. It has allowed cosmologists to examine the mature universe and work their way backward in time.

More on the Gruber International Prize Program

The Gruber International Prize Program honors individuals in the fields of cosmology, genetics and neuroscience whose groundbreaking work provides new models that inspire and enable fundamental shifts in knowledge and culture.

The selection advisory boards choose individuals whose contributions in their respective fields advance our knowledge and potentially have a profound impact on our lives. 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.

Read the UH Mānoa Institute for Astronomy news release for more.

—By Louise Good