Monday 21 October 2019

Cosmos study and planetary discovery win physics Nobel

Prize: Scientist James Peebles won the Nobel for Physics. Photo: REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
Prize: Scientist James Peebles won the Nobel for Physics. Photo: REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

David Keyton in Stockholm

A Canadian-American cosmologist and two Swiss scientists won this year's Nobel Prize in Physics yesterday for their work in understanding how the universe has evolved and the 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), each from the University of Geneva, were honoured for discovering "an exoplanet orbiting a solar-type star", said Professor Goran Hansson, secretary general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Mr Peebles, hailed as one of the most influential cosmologists of his time, will collect one half of the nine million kronor (€837,000) cash award, and the Swiss men will share the other half.

The Nobel committee said Mr 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.

Mr Mayor and Mr Queloz were credited 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, that "no one knew whether exoplanets existed or not".

An exoplanet is a planet outside the solar system.

More than 4,000 exoplanets have since been found in the Milky Way since then, 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 Mr Mayor and Mr 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 received at an elegant ceremony in Stockholm on December 10, together with five other Nobel winners. The sixth one, the peace prize, is handed out in Oslo, Norway on the same day.

On Monday, Americans William Kaelin Jnr and Gregg Semenza and Britain's Peter Ratcliffe won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, for discovering details of how the body's cells sense and react to low oxygen levels, providing a foothold for developing new treatments for anaemia, cancer and other diseases.

Irish Independent

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