Our modern understanding of the universe is built upon hundreds of experiments spanning centuries, all designed and implemented by thousands of creative, hardworking scientists. Naturally, a select few of these experiments stand out as especially groundbreaking, because they transform our view of the way things work. A different exercise is to select the most clever experiments — those that uncovered some simple fact of the universe through ingenuity rather than brute force.
Without further ado, here are my top five selections for the most ingenious experiment in physics and astronomy — in no particular order.
In 1992, it had been more than 60 years since the discovery of Pluto, and astronomers were itching to find a new planet — not in our solar system, but around another star. They knew that by carefully observing the light from a distant star, they could see the telltale changes in the wavelengths of light, called redshifting and blueshifting, as any planets wobbled the star back and forth over the course of their orbits. [How Do You Spot an Alien Planet from Earth? (Infographic)]