Wed, Oct 09, 2019 - Page 1 News List

Three win Nobel Prize for work to understand cosmos


Astronomers Michel Mayor, left, and Didier Queloz pose with a copy of the journal Nature at the University of Geneva’s astronomical observatory on Aug. 11, 2005.

Photo: AP

A Canadian-American cosmologist and two Swiss scientists yesterday won this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics for their work in understanding how the universe has evolved from the Big Bang and the blockbuster discovery of the first known planet outside our solar system.

Canadian-born James Peebles, 84, of Princeton University, was credited for “theoretical discoveries in physical cosmology” and Switzerland’s Michel Mayor, 77, and Didier Queloz, 53, both from the University of Geneva, were honored for discovering “an exoplanet orbiting a solar-type star,” said professor Goran Hansson, secretary-general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Peebles, hailed as one of the most influential cosmologists of his time, would collect half of the 9 million kronor (US$909,553) cash award, and the Swiss men would share the other half.

The Nobel committee said that Peebles’ theoretical framework about the cosmos — and its billions of galaxies and galaxy clusters — amounted to “the foundation of our modern understanding of the universe’s history, from the Big Bang to the present day.”

His work set the stage for a “transformation” of cosmology over the past half-century, using theoretical tools and calculations that helped interpret traces from the infancy of the universe, the committee said.

Peebles is the Albert Einstein Professor of Science at Princeton.

Mayor and Queloz were credited as having “started a revolution in astronomy” notably with the discovery of exoplanet 51 Pegasi B, a gaseous ball comparable with Jupiter, in 1995 — a time when, as Mayor recalled — “no one knew whether exoplanets existed or not.”

An exoplanet is a planet outside the solar system.

“Prestigious astronomers had been searching for them for years, in vain,” Mayor said.

More than 4,000 exoplanets have since been found in the Milky Way, and “strange new worlds are still being discovered, with an incredible wealth of sizes, forms and orbits,” the committee said.

The University of Geneva quoted Mayor and Queloz as saying it was “simply extraordinary” that they won the prize for “the most exciting” discovery of their careers.

The cash prize comes with a gold medal and a diploma that are to be received at an elegant ceremony in Stockholm on Dec. 10, the anniversary of the death of prize founder Alfred Nobel in 1896, together with five other Nobel winners.

The sixth one, the peace prize, is handed out in Oslo, Norway, on the same day.

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