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The 3 Physics Nobel Prize winners who transformed our understanding of the universe

The 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded with one half to James Peebles and the other half jointly to Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz.

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Bengaluru: The 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded with one half to James Peebles “for theoretical discoveries in physical cosmology” and the other half jointly to Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz “for the discovery of an exoplanet orbiting a solar-type star”.

Peebles is affiliated with Princeton University in the US while Mayor and Queloz are with University of Geneva in Switzerland. Their findings and theories have together transformed our understanding of the universe and our own place within it.

Since the 1970s, Canadian-American Peebles has been one of the world’s leading theoretical cosmologists when he proposed theories to explain various phenomena such as dark matter, cosmic microwave background, and primordial nucleosynthesis.

He has helped our understanding of how elements evolved after the Big Bang and also predicted that the remnant radiation from the event would still be found in the universe as a weak signal. He has also authored numerous textbooks that are now authoritative references on the subjects of these study.

Mayor and Queloz

In 1995, Mayor and Queloz discovered the first planet outside our solar system, an exoplanet, orbiting a sun-type star, 51 Pegasi. It was 50 light years from Earth and took four days to complete its orbit. The planet was almost as big as the size of Jupiter with average surface temperatures of over 1,000°C.

The discovery of such a planet orbiting so close to its host star went against the existing theories of how planets like Jupiter would form — far away from a star in a planetary system. Subsequent discoveries of other exoplanets revolutionalised our understanding of how planets evolved.

The researchers used a novel method then called the radial velocity method. They were able to observe wobbles in the orbit of the planet and the star, measuring the impact the planet’s gravity had on the star it orbited.

The discovery of exoplanets have transformed our understanding of the galaxy beyond our solar system, and helped us recognise mysteries in the structure and evolution of our own Milky Way.


Also read: Medicine Nobel awarded for study on how human cells sense and adapt to oxygen levels


 

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1 COMMENT

  1. The Nobel for exoplanet discovery had to come, and it has come at the right time. What an achievement for Didier Queloz who was a young researcher at the time when he achieved this extraordinary breakthrough. The science of exoplanets has come a long way since then.

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